I wrote the first feature article about Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt), it was in 1991 or thereabouts (my memory is a little hazy), and it ran in the Evening Standard Museum. At that time RAPt had a unit at HMP Downview, and as I sat in the room waiting for the clients to come in I was decidedly nervous. Nervous because this was only the second time I'd been in a prison, and nervous because although I'd had a period of abstinence from drugs and alcohol myself in the late 1980s, at this point I was firmly back in the grip of addiction - a grip that continued tightening for another eight years until I finally got completely clean and sober.
You may think it a little strange that a relapsing addict would choose to write an article about a 12-step programme for prison inmates, but there were compelling reasons: the first was Jonathan Wallace, who I knew from recovery circles, and who was one of the founders of RAPt; an ebullient man, not good at taking no for an answer, he had asked me to do the piece and I felt I couldn't refuse. Then there was RAPt itself: even in a state of relapse, with all the negativity about rehabilitation that this implies, I still couldn't gainsay what a brilliant idea the RAPt programme was.
You don't need to have suffered from addictive illness (although it undoubtedly helps) to understand that abstinence-based recovery is the only method that really works - in the sense of bringing the individual completely face-to-face with the underlying psychological problems that cause him or her to use drugs and alcohol in the first place. Nor do you need to be an addict (although, once again, it indisputably helps), to know that the current Kafkaesque condition of our prisons is a direct result of addiction treatments that are really nothing of the sort.
I grew up (if that's the right term), among street addicts who either sold their methadone to buy heroin, or took it. When they were incarcerated they were given methadone. Methadone, far from helping them to reduce their criminality, actually reinforced the vicious circle of criminality and drug use that dominated their lives.
As I say, it took me a long time to get back into recovery myself, but all that time, through my intermittent contact with the world of recovery, I saw that RAPt was helping more and more addicted and alcoholic inmates to get clean and sober and then stay that way.
When I came back into recovery I made it a priority to assist with the RAPt programme using my own skills and abilities whenever I could.
It used to be said: Once an addict always an addict; by the same token, criminality is held to be a terminal condition. In its painstaking and systematic work RAPt continues to show that these are nothing but either ignorant - or more often malicious - falsehoods.
This post originally appeared on the RAPt blog.
Disclaimer: The views held here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of RAPt.