Rehabilitation or false hope? [from “Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been someone’s project” part 3/5]

John’s life has been one of violence, abuse and institutions – but scratch the surface and you see resilience, recovery and the chance of a new life. 

By Richard Dawson

I met John in Birmingham’s quaint Victorian Tea Rooms, where over coffee he told me his life story – a story dominated by trauma, violence and navigating Britain’s prison system.

The setting is important, because it’s such a far cry from any of the places you’d associate with John’s story – and an indication of the considerable progress he has made over the last few years, as he builds a new identity and life for himself.

Read part 1 here.

Read part 2 here.

Part 3: Rehabilitation or false hope?

“I was supposed to be there for 3 months. It ended up being 5 years. It scarred me for life.”

John recalled how he felt his basic rights had been taken from him during this period. “I was in a catch 22 situation – you’re not allowed to say anything to them, otherwise you’re ‘resisting treatment’. I wondered about how I was ever going to be released. It was the most difficult part of my life.”

John was further diagnosed with stress-induced psychosis, a borderline personality disorder and PTSD from childhood trauma. He had no choice but to be injected with medication to subdue him and didn’t leave the ward in the unit for two years.

But by late 2013, John was deemed to have made good progress and was allowed to go into the community every day, where he would volunteer and also enrolled himself at a local college. It was close to Christmas when John bumped into a college friend while out shopping. They had a cup of coffee together, before John returned to the unit.

Later on, he was telling one of his peers about his day, when a support worker overheard the conversation and reported John for violating the terms of his leave. His leave was stopped just two weeks before he was due to attend a meeting to see if he was ready to start living in a probation hostel – another enormous setback.

The reports coming back from college and from his volunteering had been near-perfect, but he was informed that there was no chance of getting his leave back. The doctor in the mental health unit had told John that the Home Office had made the decision on his leave, so he asked his solicitor to contact them. To the disbelief of John and his solicitor, the Home Office had no idea that his leave had been stopped – so legal proceedings were brought against the hospital.

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