The UK has the highest prison population in Western Europe and it is rising.
Today there are 86,368 people in prison across England and Wales with around half of all crime being committed by people who have already been through the criminal justice system.
This reoffending problem is continually escalating and is currently costing the taxpayer an estimated £9.5 to £13 billion each year.
David Higham is an ex-offender and former drug addict who has spent over 25 years in and out of prison since the age of 16, racking up over 100 criminal convictions.
Since David last left prison a decade ago in 2007, he has dedicated his life to supporting both ex-offenders and drug addicts by setting up The Well, a growing recovery community in Lancashire and Cumbria.
UNILAD spoke to David about his story in an exclusive interview you can watch below:
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At the age of 12 David started taking drugs in an attempt to feel he was ‘a part of something’.
He explained to UNILAD:
I really wanted to fit in because I didn’t have that much confidence, I didn’t really like myself so I always wanted an escape from the house or school and to be out in the community.
In order to be a part of that my peer group was taking heroin. I didn’t even know it was heroin, they said it was gear.
I was that young and naive I didn’t actually know. Before I knew it I was addicted.
Soon David started committing crime with his peers as a matter of course and quickly found himself behind bars at the age of 16, then again and again – for over 25 years.
Usually I would have six months out of prison and I was nicked again and back in and that was what it was like. It went on for years.
What else am I going to do? What else would I do? I’m back out there with £37 and nothing else, I’m just going to pick up where I left. I still felt like I wanted to be a part of something and be a part of a community.
So I go back to my peers who I took drugs with, who I was in prison with and who I committed crime with.
It was very easy to do that, it was very easy. I knew how to commit crime and take drugs.
— The well (@TheThewell2) February 25, 2016
Seeing that there was a lack of support for people leaving prison with an addiction, David decided to set up The Well with the first hub launching in Lancaster in 2012.
Now there are sites across Lancashire and Cumbria which support ex-offenders and drug addicts by providing services that include therapeutic programmes, recovery housing, family services and social activities.
David told UNILAD:
I didn’t see anyone breaking free from prison or drugs. They had a life to offer or are dead, that is what happens.
There needed to be something for people coming out of prison and rehab to go into. What is the point of doing all this work and when they come out there is nothing for them so they feel alone, fearful and isolated?
It’s pointless. They are always going to go back to what they know.
I had this passionate desire to do something and so I started The Well. I wanted something visible. I wanted a beacon to say if you want to break free from crime and addiction, this is where it is at.
A safe environment where you are going to build long lasting relationships, where you can have a life beyond your wildest dreams and no longer do you have to suffer a life of addiction and crime.
If you want to break free, there is a solution and way out.
Adele currently lives in a recovery house with four other women following The Well’s 12 step recovery programme.
She spoke to UNILAD about her experience with The Well:
When we come out of our addiction a lot of us have forgotten how to live, how to clean, how to even look after ourselves.
This is the most powerful thing I have experienced in my entire life. My family have all come back piece by piece.
By coming into a house and learning how to live again, that is what it is all about and learning how to be in a family environment. This is what The Well is, it’s a family.
It has given me something I have never known how to have.
Amazing T Well receives 25k from Nat West, helping people in recover. Fantastic pic.twitter.com/8mlI9KXYR2
— The well (@TheThewell2) November 30, 2016
For David the highlight of his experience with The Well is seeing how his work is helping others recover.
I feel complete when I see someone like Adele or someone who has been in the prison system for over 25 years like myself who has never known hope and did not care whether they lived or die, smiling and walking down the street.
We are working with people in prison, building that relationship up so they have that connection, so they don’t feel feared up, so they don’t feel like they are going to go use or cause chaos or die when they are released.
They are supported right through it. We are going to invest them into the community.
We are going to plant them in fertilised soil, so they will have a chance to grow and flourish and be the person they really want to be. It’s beautiful and magical.
His work has helped hundreds of people but there is a still long way to go to diminish the reoffending problem.
David is a remarkable inspiration though who will continue to encourage people to break free from their lives of crime and addiction.
To find out more about The Well, visit their website.