‘I got sick and tired of sur­viv­ing, I wanted TO LIVE’

Ja­son, a ca­reer crim­i­nal who wants to leave a life of thug­gery and drug ad­dic­tion be­hind him, is one of many peo­ple be­ing given hope by an in­no­va­tive pro­gram. Kate Campbell re­ports

The Sunday Times - - NEWS -

We pulled ev­ery­thing to­gether for the kid. But we put bubs to bed one Satur­day, and she didn’t wake up.

“EVERY time I went to jail I de­served to go — jail was built for peo­ple like me.”

Ja­son does not sugar coat where he has come from. A his­tory of vi­o­lence, crime and drug ad­dic­tion to “what­ever would give me a kick” from his early teenage years led to him be­com­ing “in­sti­tu­tion­alised” and turn­ing his back on so­ci­ety.

De­spite grow­ing up in a car­ing adopted fam­ily in which he had “am­ple op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed”, Ja­son says he had a “ge­netic mis­fire” in him that lured him to the “lu­cra­tive” crim­i­nal world.

His choice of “ca­reer” has seen him locked up for 18 of his 39 years for many and var­ied se­ri­ous crimes com­mit­ted in­ter­state.

“Manslaugh­ter — they tried to get me for mur­der, but they dropped it to manslaugh­ter, I didn’t mean to bash a bloke to death, it just hap­pened — armed rob­bery, drug deal­ing, you name it,” Ja­son frankly ex­plains his rap sheet, while stress­ing he’s “never bashed a woman”.

He learnt from a young age that life in jail was “eas­ier than what it was cracked up to be”.

“Jail just be­come home, ev­ery­thing was done for me there

. . . we ran it, it was our play­ground, it was where we made money and re­cruited more peo­ple,” he said.

“When I first got out of jail I couldn’t walk down the street with­out fight­ing. It’s that al­pha male dom­i­nated world, only the strong sur­vive.

“Be­ing re­leased from cus­tody (was a low point) be­cause it scared me, so­ci­ety scared me. I didn’t know how to live out here, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, pay bills or go shop­ping.

“I get out . . . and three hours of be­ing re­leased af­ter an­other huge stretch, I’m put back to work . . . and I just had enough, and I said, ‘Nah, stuff it’.”

There are few re­deem­ing fea­tures in Ja­son’s past, but he has hope for an hon­est life away from the crim­i­nal un­der­world — thanks to find­ing love with Kirsty, his part­ner of 16 months and an­other troubled soul with a de­sire to turn over a new leaf — as well as the ef­forts made to help the cou­ple get their life back on track by com­mu­nity ser­vices or­gan­i­sa­tion Ruah, through its pi­lot pro­gram Choices.

What Ja­son had had enough of was the “eat you up and spit you out” re­al­ity of the crim­i­nal world and the fact he was re­peat­edly throw­ing his free­dom away at will.

He said he wanted to know what a “le­git” life felt like, one of pay­ing taxes and go­ing to the lo­cal pub or walk­ing down the street with­out get­ting into a fight.

“Kirsty was my saviour, she was my mo­ment of clar­ity. I didn’t want this to be my legacy,” Ja­son said. “I got sick and tired of sur­viv­ing, I wanted to live.

“I’m over look­ing over my shoul­der, be­ing ev­ery­body else’s go­pher . . . to do what I was do­ing you can’t have a con­science and if you get a con­science you can’t do it no more.”

Their chaotic life was achiev­ing some nor­malcy when the cou­ple moved to WA and set­tled in Kal­go­or­lie ear­lier this year, where they lived in a nice home and Ja­son found work con­cret­ing. They soon wel­comed their baby daugh­ter Ty’esha, and life for once looked bright, but rock bot­tom was just around the cor­ner.

“We pulled ev­ery­thing to­gether for the kid,” Ja­son said. “But we put bubs to bed one Satur­day, and she didn’t wake up.”

His two-month-old baby’s death, be­lieved to be caused by Sud­den In­fant Death Syn­drome, sent Ja­son spi­ralling into a re­lapse. “Ma­te­rial goods come and go, but the love of a child . . . we will take that to our graves,” Ja­son said. “I re­lapsed, and started drink­ing, fight­ing and do­ing what I do. I wanted to go back to my old life, but I couldn’t be­cause Kirsty needed me and I needed Kirsty.”

The grief-stricken cou­ple aban­doned their new life and wound up home­less in Perth, but a visit to Royal Perth Hospi­tal’s emer­gency depart­ment to treat Ja­son’s bro­ken ribs sus­tained in a bar fight pro­vided an un­ex­pected glim­mer of hope. Kirsty asked Ruah for help, and Ruah came to their res­cue.

“They moved heaven and earth for us, we’re for­ever in their debt . . . it’s or­gan­i­sa­tions like Ruah that give you hope to con­tinue on to the next day,” he said. “If it weren’t for th­ese guys we wouldn’t be sit­ting here.”

Over the past year, Ruah’s Choices pi­lot pro­gram, a brain­child of the WA Pri­mary Health Al­liance, has placed peer work­ers — peo­ple with their own “lived ex­pe­ri­ences” with “psy­choso­cial is­sues” mainly re­lated to home­less­ness, men­tal health and drugs and al­co­hol — in the EDs of RPH and Rock­ing­ham Hospi­tal, WA Po­lice’s Perth watch house and from next month will be present in the Drug Court and Perth Mag­is­trates Court.

For Ja­son and Kirsty, Ruah helped them with emo­tional sup­port, as well as fi­nan­cially with their bond to se­cure a roof over their heads, food and cloth­ing.

Be­tween last November and this July, Choices peer work­ers in­ter­acted with 459 peo­ple at RPH and in the watch house, and 227 of those be­came clients.

Choices pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Talia van Niek­erk, from Ruah, said the pi­lot pro­gram con­sisted of 10 peer work­ers and three se­nior com­mu­nity work­ers, and had an aim of re­duc­ing re­peat pre­sen­ta­tions in EDs and the jus­tice sys­tem from peo­ple suf­fer­ing a range of “psy­choso­cial” dis­tress.

“What we found is peo­ple were com­ing into the ED for help when they didn’t have any­where else to go. That’s where peo­ple as­sumed they were go­ing to get all their help from, so why not put a ser­vice in there that might be able to meet that need,” she said.

“We’re not, ‘Well we tried once, we’re not go­ing to give you a sec­ond shot’, it’s, ‘We’ll give you 100 shots if that’s what it takes be­fore you’re ready’.”

Ms van Niek­erk said a hospi­tal ED, po­lice hold­ing cell or court house were in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ments for a vul­ner­a­ble per­son and hav­ing some­one not part of that sys­tem sit down for a chat could make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence. Fund­ing for the pi­lot pro­gram ends next June, but there is hope it will be al­lowed to con­tinue beyond that.

RPH ED con­sul­tant Dr Amanda Stafford said be­fore Choices moved in, staff in the ED felt a sense of “help­less­ness” and “dis­sat­is­fac­tion” that they couldn’t help many peo­ple com­ing in with their un­der­ly­ing psy­choso­cial is­sues, which she es­ti­mated was about one in 20 pre­sen­ta­tions.

Now with Choices on board, Dr Stafford said: “We’re re­ally look­ing not at bandaids, but re­ally at heal­ing the wound.

“What it helps with is eas­ing the bur­den of staff in the ED that they can be happy that when a pa­tient leaves they ac­tu­ally have a good plan in place — if that per­son would like to do it.”

Bet­ter fu­ture: Ja­son is on a new path af­ter meet­ing his part­ner Kirsty and taking part in Ruah’s Choices pro­gram at Royal Perth Hospi­tal. Pic­ture: Daniel Wilkins

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.