Keith has been in and out of prison since age 15. He reckons that has been in 12 different prisons and has committed a total of 152 driving offences.
Born and raised in Liverpool, Keith has lived with his mum for most of his life. Keith’s dad left home when he was just five years old. The two never really had a good relationship, they were always fighting, but Keith has always been close to his mum: “My mum means the world to me.”
When he was young, he fell in with a bad group of friends. They all showed very little interest in school. By the time he was 15, Keith had left education. He didn’t have any qualifications to show. He admits that he didn’t really try hard. Most days, he would go in, get the mark for attending, and leave with his friends. His teachers would try and chase him, but it did not change anything.
He just wanted to be like the older kids on his estate. They’d drive around the block with all of the younger kids looking on in admiration. They were his role models. There wasn’t much else to do and so eventually he started just copying them. He got a buzz from driving.
His group of mates would club together any money they had and buy old bangers to drive around the block. Back then, the police used to just give out tickets for driving offences. There was not any real deterrent: you’d give in your documents, get a ticket, and move along. So, the first time that Keith was sentenced for driving whilst disqualified he ‘shit himself’.
He was sentenced for six months at Hindley young offenders’institution. When he was released, he went back home and his parents tried to lecture him. His dad wanted to give him a ‘kick up the arse’. His mum tried to ground him. It did not change much.
Things only got worse. At 16, Keith had started to steal cars. There were two lads on the estate who would sell them on, it was an easy way of making decent money. To get money, he’d either steal or ask friends if they had any work going dealing drugs.
The cycle continued to repeat itself. Keith would be sentenced, go to prison, bump into friends on the wings, be given his discharge grant and return home to start the whole process again. His sentences got lengthier after he started dealing drugs. One time he was convicted for dealing and sentenced for two years and eight months. After serving his time on the inside, he’d returned back to Liverpool only to be sentenced again for another drug offence three weeks after leaving the prison gates.
He had smoked weed on the outside but, after being locked up with an addict in Walton, he began to use heroin. It was whilst at Kirkham that he discovered spice. Keith didn’t understand how dangerous this addiction was. He would be walking around the prison, thinking he looked OK, unaware of how badly spice had damaged his body.
Aged 41, Keith realised it was time to sort his life out. He could not keep returning to prison, something had to change. It was at this point that he learned about Recycling Lives. Recycling Lives is a total waste management company, based in Preston. It provides a multitude of rehabilitation projects for offenders, offering prisoners a real opportunity for employment. At present, they operate academies in 11 prisons, provide a rehabilitation project for ex-offenders and homeless people, and run a food redistribution centre to tackle food waste and poverty.
Up until this point, Keith hadn’t had much support. When he was younger, the mentality in prison was very much one of keeping your head down and getting on with it. These days, Keith thinks the system is getting better. There are more opportunities to get help if you want it. Prison is far from perfect, but there seems to have been a gradual realisation concerning the importance of rehabilitation.
Keith put himself forward for a place at a Recycling Lives Academy whilst serving a sentence at HMP Lancaster Farm.
After working with Recycling Lives for 11 months throughout his sentence, Keith was offered a place at their residential. This time, upon release, Keith wasn’t just sent away with the bare minimum funding for a train ticket. He was picked up by Barry, a Recycling Lives employee, who took him straight to his new home. This was his turning point. If there had not been that support at the gate, Keith thinks it would have been all too easy to slip back into old habits. But something was different this time. He had people who could support him.
Starting out in the canteen, Keith soon moved on to the food redistribution plant and gradually worked his way up to working on site at the recycling company. He finally has a permanent job where he gets to drive forklifts day in day out. He has moved out of his mum’s home and finally has his own place. This is the second chance he really wanted.