My name is Achim and I am resident at a drug rehabilitation community in Italy called San Patrignano. I have been here since 2008 and I entered this place because I was addicted to drugs. In 2008 I was arrested for drug dealing in Milan and sentenced to 3 years in prison. At the time I was 19. When I was sent to prison I had not seen my family for over a year because they threw me out of the house. I was like cancer to them.
My Mum eventually came to see me in prison and she said to me "Achim if you want to make a big change in your life you can do so by entering San Patrignano rather than staying in prison." My Mum said that if I did not choose the community then she did not want to see me again. My Father and my little brother also told me the same thing.
When my mother told me this I did not say yes immediately but I started to think about my old friends who are good and living life and here I was in jail. I thought at the time that it was crazy that I was in jail. I looked inside of myself and I could see nothing - no girlfriend, no passion, no career - taking drugs had cost me everything. When I thought about this I remember that I did not feel sad I just felt nothing. The drugs had numbed my feelings and I was not able to feel anything.
So I said to myself it is now or never and I called my Mum and I said that I was ready to change and ready to enter San Patrignano. Many people are here in San Patrignano are serving their time rather than wasting away in prison. I started working with one of the Associations connected with San Patrignano and after a few months of preparation the Italian courts signed the papers to allow San Patrignano to take me in. The first time I came here for me it was very difficult because I did not trust anyone and I wanted to take drugs again. I realised that all of my life because of drugs I have made the wrong choices and this was the first time that I made a good choice.
For the first year I wanted to escape and run away many times but now I am glad that I stayed. Here in the community I have the possibility to start from the beginning and rebuild my relationship with myself and my family. Overall now I am laughing, I also give many hugs to friends here and I also help others in the community. I could never imagine being this happy and being able to enjoy the simple things in life.
I was 13 when I smoked my first joint to be part of a gang and also I thought that this would make me more like an adult. In a few months after smoking my first joint I was then smoking every day because I did not think that there was a problem to smoke marijuana. When I started to smoke marijuana my world started to crumble. I was kept back at school because I lost interest and I also started fighting with my family. The gang that I belonged to started to fight with other gangs in Milan and at the age of 15 I took my first ecstasy tablet. It was a downward spiral from then and by the time I went to jail I was addicted to cocaine, crack, ecstasy, MDMA, LSD, marijuana, alcohol every day and heroin. I stated smoking heroin at 16 and then the high was not high enough so I injected when I was 17.
Taking drugs is like taking a ride on a boat. You start, you see the seaside and the beach and after a few times taking drugs you are in the middle of the sea and you cannot see land. You also cannot steer the boat. When you are in the ocean the situation is very bad as you don't care about anything. Nothing matters and the only thing that you want to do is to get high. Allot of my friends from back then are dead or in prison or leading the same life.
Everyone here in the community has their own story but one thing that we all have in common is the fact that our downfall started by smoking marijuana. I just read a story written by Richard Branson that he wants to relax the laws on smoking marijuana and I am worried that if this happens then more young people like I did will think that it is ok to smoke a joint. The thought that my little brother back home could buy marijuana easily just like buying chewing gum makes me very worried.
I hope Richard Branson or the people who advise him on drug policy will read this as I am sending a personal invitation to you Mr Branson to come and visit San Patrignano to learn more about the community. I know that you do good things in this world and that you have good intentions. You know about big numbers in terms of drug dealing and prisons and I would love for you to also know about a single individual whose life has been affected by smoking marijuana.
26th of June 2013 is the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Together with our friends at the UK San Patrignano Association I will be celebrating with others here in the community the great work that San Patrignano does.