A group of ex-offenders and former drug users are using their real life experiences to help young people and prisoners avoid going down the same route of a life of crime and drug addiction.
Phil Pearce, 33, from Beeston, has set up social enterprise, Life Experience, and uses poetry and drama to help schools and offenders understand the perils of drugs and crime and how to ensure they avoid the mistakes made by ex-offenders.
Life Experience is run by five volunteers – four of which have had experience of drug abuse or have done time behind bars. They’re currently visiting schools, hostels and prisons across West Yorkshire to raise awareness of drug abuse and knife crime.
Phil, who is now in full-time employment with Leeds City Council and is currently seeking employment in the probation service, said: “The turning point for me came when I went to prison. In Armley Prison it dawned on me the damage that drugs does to yourself, your family and friends.
“With the help of the prison service, the Twelve Steps Fellowship and West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) I’ve managed to turn around my life and wanted to share my experience and that of other ex-offenders.”
Phil and other members of Life Experience, which includes a former police officer, now perform a mixture of poetry and drama in schools, prisons and community projects.
Most recently the group have been performing a play about Spice, the so-called legal high which has become popular among drugs users particularly in prison, where it has caused major disruption.
Phil said: “The play has been well received in schools and in prisons particularly in Armley and Kirkham. I think why the performance is so powerful and meaningful is because it’s done by people have had that bad life experience and come through it. Spice can really mess up your life but we can show people a way out of it.”
Life Experience, which is looking for further volunteers and those recovering from drug abuse to join them, is currently working on a drama of the perils of carrying a knife
Phil said: “There is a lot of support out there from Narcotics Anonymous and the local probation service who can really help. The support and trust I received from West Yorkshire CRC’s Austin Butler really helped me and it was because of him that we launched Life Experience.”
Scott Wilson, principal at Farnley Academy, said of Life Experience’s recent work “this has been the best impactive session in over two years. It’s a testament to [Life Experience] that we have received such fantastic feedback”.
WY CRC is responsible for supervising offenders and ensuring they comply with their sentence and the orders of the court. It manages more than 11,000 offenders at any one time and an average of 900 new cases a month.
Life Experience has a dedicated Facebook page with details about the initiative an how to volunteer.