At Concrete, we believe in using lived experience to help people overcome struggles and start new chapters.
Many of our staff, peer mentors and volunteers have had experience of difficulties such as homelessness, addiction and mental health problems. They use this to support people currently going through similar situations.
It’s one of the ways that we can help them break the cycle and start a new chapter by building real, genuine connections.
This week we’re sharing the story of Concrete Navigator Phil who works within our Destination:Home service.
Phil was supported by our partners Walk Ministries and now uses his lived experience of crime and drug addiction to help people who want to turn their lives around after being released from prison.
He visits them prior to their release to build up relationships, before supporting their rehabilitation.
This includes making sure a home is ready for them, as well as helping them find opportunities and develop new skills to minimise the chance of reoffending.
Phil shared the inspiring story of how he turned his life around and began supporting others in similar situations.
Phil said: “I grew up on a council estate in Dublin and I can clearly remember how hard my mother worked, holding down three or four jobs just to put clothes on our backs. I was the youngest child by 11 years. My mother had divorced and then years later met my dad and had me. Despite this, growing up I never felt like I was separate from the others, we were together as siblings.
“I don’t remember much more of my childhood and I couldn’t tell you loads of stories about what it was like growing up, because in 2009 two people tried to murder me and that attack left me with a head injury that put me in a coma for six weeks. After that happened I needed reconstructive surgery on my face. This put me physically back together, but I lost a lot of memories. I don’t have many clear and detailed memories of what life was like before.
“I was involved in drugs and criminality when the attack happened. I had skills as a painter and decorator but I had chosen a lifestyle that made me more money for less effort, however that life did come with some substantial risks.
“The attack in 2009 was linked to my drug dealing, I had stepped on people’s toes. When I came out of the coma I was prescribed medication for the nerve damage in my head. Unfortunately, I started getting the feel for them and it was not long before they took over. I went back to selling drugs, but I also started taking tablets and painkillers, before too long I ended up on heroin.
“In the next few years I dealt drugs at home and abroad, I was sectioned, I was handed a prison sentence, I went to my first rehab, got clean, met a girl, got engaged, ended the relationship and went back to selling and doing drugs.
“Life was a rollercoaster, but the ride came to an abrupt halt in 2018.
“I was being taken into the woods to get shot as I had fallen out with people and they were going to kill me. I thought it was the end for me. The gun they wanted to shoot me with jammed, and if it hadn’t I wouldn’t be here today – it’s as simple as that.”
Phil reached out for help and by April 2019 he was being supported by Walk Ministries. He was given opportunities to develop his skills and realised he wanted to give back to others with similar stories.
Phil said: “I have been clean for two years now. I have a beautiful young family. We are buying a house, putting down roots and creating a future for ourselves.
“I had bouts of sobriety before but it’s different this time. I found my purpose at Walk. Before I always relied on my skills, what I could do. I learned to be confident in who I am. The difference has changed my life.”
Phil has been working for Concrete as a Navigator for over a year. He supports people leaving prison and uses his lived experience to help them start a new chapter on the outside.
He said: “I love my job. I was once at the other end of this kind of service so it’s amazing to be able to share my story with these guys and encourage them.
“I try and visit them around two to three times before they are released. This gives me the opportunity to build a relationship with them and discover their goals and aspirations, what they want to achieve when they are released.
“We aim to provide them with a home that is ready for them when they are released. We kit it out for them and make it homely, to try and increase their chance of success and minimise the chance of them reoffending.
“Some cases are a lot more complex than others, but we’ve had some great successes with the service since it started.
“As someone who has been on the receiving end of similar services, I can really empathise with the guys I support. Having that experience really helps me to build a good rapport with them.”