USING EX-OFFENDING EXPERIENCE TO PREVENT FUTURE CRIME
On Tuesday 21st March 2023, a man of slender build with kind eyes and a greying beard walked nervously through the doors of Newport Police Station; his destination – the cells! Four walls that were not unfamiliar to him, but this time the man was about to experience life on the other side of the cell door.
That man was Mick Bird, and this experience would be a first in his lifetime.
Backtrack to the mid 1970’s, Mick was a young man already trapped in a web of crime and substance misuse. A vicious cycle; one act fuelling the other, sustaining a chaotic lifestyle that would span the next 30 years of Mick’s life.
Over those three decades, Mick would spend 12 years of his life in prison and battle an unrelenting heroin addiction that would result in homelessness. When you put all of this together, it’s unsurprising that Mick has a greying beard, but you’d also be forgiven for assuming he would be walking into the station in handcuffs.
But, Mick’s life took an abrupt turn 13 years ago after a final stint in prison. Mick credits the change he chose to make back then to a staff member with the Rehabilitation For Addictive Prisoners Trust (RAPT) – John – who showed unwavering belief and compassion in him and his ability to change and choose a better path in life.
Mick’s journey from then until now has been peppered with the highs and lows that accompany a lifetime of crime and substance dependency, but through the tests life has thrown at him, Mick has always remained firm that the rest of his life should be spent giving back to people who need help; the way help was and continues to be gifted to him.
At the beginning of April 2023, Mick walked into Newport Police Station, he set in motion an innovative new project for Gwent, and a first of its kind for the Police force. A project that adopts the notion that when a person comes into custody under arrest, maybe having Mick there as a person with lived experience, who’s been where they are at that moment in time, could lead them to ask important questions of themselves, and possibly begin their own journey towards a better life.
To date, Mick has spent a few hours working alongside Police Officers in Newport Central Police Station, trying to connect with people being brought in under arrest or detained. His work has been supported by the Criminal Justice team that form an integral part of the Gwent Drug & Alcohol Service.
For some people, Mick will just be a friendly face that sits outside of the arm of the law, offering them a warm drink and a friendly ear; other times he could be the messenger between a person in the cells and the Police Officers. The hope is that he can one day become the person that John was for him. The person who showed a belief in Mick that resonated with him so deeply it stirred Mick’s first step towards the life he lives today.