In this interview, Paul, one of the men we support through our Connect to Community service, opens up to Gillian, a Community Resettlement Worker at Bethany, about his journey out of prison and how Bethany helped him start a new chapter.
PAUL: “I first came across you in the café at the Baptist Church. I didn’t know you, I just saw this little woman talking and laughing and smiling with everyone. It was not long before I found out what you did and how you were helping people I knew and for that you gained my utmost respect.
I really have to say that when you said you knew some of my past friends I half expected you to blank me as I have continuously mucked up my whole life and not a lot of my past friends still talk to me but no, not our Gillian. You were always there with a smile and a “Hi” even when you were run off your feet. I couldn’t believe you had such a busy life, I still cannot work out where you found all the hours in a day.
Unfortunately, I was still doing drugs and drinking and dodging jail. To be fair I wanted to change but I had to get my affairs in order. (The plan was to) get caught, cut my ties and then do my time and go somewhere else. So when it came I just accepted it and went with the flow.
I was in HMP Addiewell, the week before my sentencing. I was going down to ‘the visits’ and that was when I bumped into ‘the wee lassie fae the café’. I still wasn’t too sure about you and not just you being in and out of prison, I became unsure of people in general and trust wasn’t even on the agenda.
When you shouted over that you would visit I just smiled and never thought much about it until I got a visit up on my timetable”
Gillian mentioned to us that Paul never had visits in prison.
“I always remember what I was going to say to you and wondered why you would come up all that way to spend time talking to me. I also worried about what if the topic of God came up. I stopped practicing my religion a long time ago but I still believed He was there, but my faith was not good. Even today I only talk on occasions although I love the worship and I’m really starting to understand the word more as well.
Well Gillian, you were my first visitor in prison barring lawyers and the police and what a morning, I came in and sat down and it still felt weird, you made me feel relaxed and I even took you round to my art class, forgetting I was in prison.
I took you to a class full of Cons!”
GILLIAN: “I wasn’t allowed to wander around the prison at that point but we were in the class before we knew it! There were officers in the Academy so it was safe if a little unusual for a visitor to be there. The Connect to Community Release Arts class actually came from Paul’s introduction of me to Cassie his art teacher in the prison that day. She now volunteers with us and we run it together.”
PAUL: “After that I wrote to you at least once a month and that was a first time thing as well. I only sent one letter out normally per sentence telling either my dad or brother what I did, where I was and when I was getting out but throughout my letters to you, I speak of doing things for the first time.”
Paul was soon released from prison. He ponders on his initial actions afterwards and the nagging sense that he didn’t want to let Gillian down.
“I know you never gave it too much of a thought but after I never waited for you the day I was liberated and went straight back ‘on it’ I felt rubbish and when I apologised to you I promised myself that if it was down to me I wasn’t going to let you down again. Today, I have never once promised you I would be somewhere and not turned up (so far!)”
As part of their community work, Bethany used to be involved in the Lighthouse group on a Thursday evening in Motherwell Baptist Church. Paul became a regular attender after he was liberated from prison. He is an artist so Gillian bought him materials to sit in the warm and draw or paint.
“The last couple of months I had cut down a lot in what I was taking but I was leading my life in a confused mess. That’s why I never promised I would see you at church as I never knew what I would be like day to day. Although through the Thursday nights you managed to twinkle my curiosity about God.”
One Thursday evening, Gillian noticed that Paul wasn’t himself. When she probed further it turned out he was sleeping in a local park and he had gone to a local bridge on the road to Hamilton that morning and seriously considered jumping.
GILLIAN: “It was very cold at that time of year. After the group at 9.30pm I asked him to come to the hospital with me and was shocked when he said yes. After assessment the psychiatric team discharged him at 3.30am”
After heading back into town, Gillian gave Paul his bus fare to get to the Addictions Unit at University Hospital Wishaw.
PAUL: “I know now that night I was totally lost and broke but I was in safe hands I had finally trusted someone, I still worry about some of the times, if I should have put so much on your wee shoulders but you are a very special person and just hearing you talk and do simple things always makes me smile.”
The days ahead were very flat for Paul; his body and mind were completely broken and it showed. All Gillian could do was show him love and try to help him be safe, but she felt powerless at times.
The following Wednesday, Paul spoke to Gillian and Jamie Cremin, a Recovery and Resettlement Worker from Bethany, at the Baptist café in Motherwell. That is when Jamie mentioned Betel – an independent Christian charity with residential centres for men, women and families affected forms of social exclusion such as homelessness and addiction.
After an initial interview, Paul attended one of their centres in Nottingham.
PAUL: “The big day! 2nd May 2019 5.30am (No chance of a lie in!)
You were at my buzzer and I was off! Even at that moment you gave me a smile and a packed lunch as you sent me to Nottingham.“
GILLIAN: “He doesn’t know that I smiled to reassure him but walked away in tears of both sadness at his situation and relief that he was alive and we had made it that far!”
PAUL: “I hoped you would get home safe that’s how high I held you as I knew I had come through a very dark place and you held my hand all the way and for that I will forever be in your debt.”
GILLIAN: “That night I called to make sure he had arrived and we cheered at the Lighthouse group to celebrate he had made it! There is no doubt that ‘bumping into’ Paul in prison and consistently being in touch with him during his sentence was the foundation for trust and that’s why he allowed me in and to take him to the hospital that evening. Chatting to Jamie who was male and had been where he was also had a huge impact on him too. Paul calls me every week on a Sunday and writes regularly. He will have been in Betel for a year on Thursday coming.”
PAUL: “I have not stopped replaying some of that Thursday night we went to the hospital and now I’m on this path I still have your support and to have you on my side means the world to me, make sure you tell your boss he’s not giving you enough (just kidding). I know what you do isn’t for the money although it’s handy, it’s just who you are. I pray for you every night and hope you never change. One of these days I’ll sit face to face with you over a coffee and have a good laugh over this little adventure.”
Today, Paul is in the process of thinking about his future and moving on from Betel, but understandably he finds this uncertainty hard. He is also considering baptism at his church and is speaking with his church leaders about this decision. His journey is still mixed with unsettled weeks but we are glad to say that he had made the decision to stay in Betel, at least until his 18 months are up in November. We are committed to supporting Paul as he moves on in the future and will continue to walk alongside him on his journey to full recovery.