CAPTION: CGM CRC’s Gary Whittingham with P3’s Marissa Farrell
Billy has been clean from heroin and crack cocaine for more than 12 months, and believes that his transformation would’ve been impossible without probation and partner agency P3.
The 53-year-old, from Salford, first became involved in crime as a youngster, when he got involved in gangs and served long sentences for firearms offences and selling drugs. During one of his stints in prison, aged 25, Billy turned to heroin to help him cope with a friend’s death.
While serving his last custodial sentence, which was for nine months, Billy took the decision to quit. He is supervised on licence by Cheshire & Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company’s probation case manager Gary Whittingham.
Billy suffered a stroke four-years-ago and has mobility issues. He was in serious rent arrears, faced eviction, and also needed to renew his bus pass to help him make a string of appointments with various agencies to ensure he could claim the money and support he needed to live.
The father-of-two said: “I’d had almost 30 years of hardcore drug addiction and all the debts and problems that go along with that.
“Probation looks like a good idea on paper, but in the past it hadn’t gone well for me. Admittedly I didn’t want to quit, but I’d come in, say what they wanted to hear, and they couldn’t sort out my issues with a 15-minute meeting once a fortnight. That’s not rehabilitation.
“But this time it was different, probation has got me out of a dark place.”
Gary referred Billy to social justice charity P3. P3 is part of the Interserve-led partnership that runs five CRCs, including CGM CRC. The organisation employs link workers who support people on probation who are also classed as having complex needs and are deemed to be highly likely to re-offend.
Billy said: “I’d done all the hard work getting clean, but doors were still being shut in my face. It’s been a hard struggle, a real fight, to get this far. And I couldn’t have done it without probation and P3.
“It felt like society was still against me. It would have been easier to pick up the phone, sort out some drugs and go back to my old lifestyle.”
To qualify for a bus pass Billy needed paperwork signed by his GP, which required payment. Billy was in a mountain of debt and needed to sort his benefits to be able to make any payments, but he struggled to make appointments because he had no means of getting to the Jobcentre without a bus pass.
The impasse resulted in Billy being confined to his house, and that was badly impacting on his mental health.
Billy said: “I was getting frustrated and lost my temper at the GPs’ surgery. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but nothing was working out for me.
“I was thinking ‘why I have done all this, just for the goalposts to move every minute’.
“You have to go online to fill in the benefit forms. But because of my condition, the flickering screens can set off a seizure. Then trying to call some of these organisations, you can be two-and-a-half hours on the phone listening to that music – but still nothing gets done.”
Louise Whittaker, P3 link worker, took Billy to appointments, acted as a mediator at the GPs, and spent two months helping him secure his bus pass. Billy’s medical appointment letters had been sent to the wrong address and that set off a chain of events that was about to cut off his benefits; but again Louise was able to untangle the knot.
Gary said: “When I first met Billy he was pretty chaotic socially and emotionally.
“Historically Billy had a lot of different probation supervisors and that didn’t help, but when I met him he appreciated my honesty and that I did what I said I was going to do. We had an understanding, and I could see he genuinely wanted to do it right. In all honesty, the bulk of the work has been done by Louise – but we have worked well together.
“Billy has done extremely well.”
Louise added: “Billy made the choice. He quit. He wanted to change and he had the motivation.
“It’s all too easy for agencies to underestimate the knock-on effects of things such as bus passes and benefits not being properly processed, it can cause serious depression and mental health issues.
“Billy needed an advocate, someone who could work with the various agencies to remove the barriers that are all too commonly associated with people involved in the criminal justice system. I am delighted that we were able to provide that support.”
Billy says he is also in a relationship with someone who is supporting him every step of the way.
He added: “I’m fine waiting if I know the ball is rolling, but in all honesty, without Gary and Louise, I’d be back at it. Now I’m reaping the rewards of working with them. They’ve kept me on the straight and narrow.
“My sons have told me I wasn’t a bad dad, they never wanted for anything, but obviously I did the tour of prisons and wasn’t there for them like I should have been.
“They want me there for my grandchildren – and I think that’s a fair ask. I wish I’d stuck it out in the past, but thanks to Louise and Gary, I finally have.”