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'For first time I can see how to live without being dependent on this stuff'

By Claire O'Boyle

Two inmates at Maghaberry who have battled addiction have spoken about how a new anti-drug initiative at the prison is helping them deal with their problems.

The scheme targets the most widely abused substances, engaging with prisoners through a range of techniques, including music therapy and gardening. Peter (not his real name) has been at Maghaberry since May last year after he was caught trying to steal a car in Belfast while high on Diazepam, known on the streets as 'Blues'.

Read More: Revolutionary Maghaberry project helping inmates kick prescription pill addictions

Aged 25, he's been in and out of prison an astonishing 20 times, and blames drugs for landing him in the cells every time.

"I was on and off them for ages and every time I've been in trouble it's been drugs-related," said Peter, speaking from one of the sheds used by the group during horticulture sessions.

"The night I got done last year I was full of drink and drugs and I got caught trying to take a car.

"The problem with Blues is you feel like you're invincible. You think nobody's watching you, nobody can touch you. I was sentenced to 30 months, but I want this to be my last time in here."

Peter, one of the 10 inmates taking part in the first phase of the project, has been abusing Pregabalin throughout his time at Maghaberry. As well as his legitimate supply from the prison pharmacy for anxiety, he admits he has sourced it from elsewhere to top up his dose.

"I've been really reliant on it," he said. "And to be honest I just got it where I could and didn't ask where it came from. I just needed it.

"But you know it's no good for you when you realise you're all anxious and stressed when you don't have it. That's what I was like on visits from my family - I'd either be a bit out of it or really nervous."

Peter explained that coming off the medication through the project was tough to start with, but after 10 weeks the benefits keep coming.

"I was sick coming off them," he said. "You get side-effects with your body cleaning out - you get a runny nose and you're down and depressed.

"But we've had loads of support, and the pain management stuff has made a massive difference.

"We're 10 weeks in and I'm not nervous about going back to the main prison because I feel like I've learned loads already, and for the first time I can see how to live without being dependent on this stuff.

"I used to be a messer, so they're probably surprised I've made it this far, but I'm going to keep it up."

Also on the scheme is 25-year-old Andrew (not his real name), who arrived in Maghaberry in January 2014. He was sentenced to eight years after stabbing someone in a drug-fuelled row in Belfast.

"I've been in jail loads of times since I was 16," he admitted

"Before this, it was all drugs and stealing cars, but the last time was the worst. I don't want to be in here again.

"I've been addicted to cannabis for years, and since I've been in here I've tried other things.

"I've been on anti-depressants too and have become very reliant on them for stress, so I have to stop. I don't like throwing tablets down my throat.

"I've come off cannabis a few times before just on my own, but I always ended up going looking for drugs after a few months.

"That happened before Christmas, which is when they asked me if I wanted to go on the project."

Like Peter, Andrew hasn't looked back. "Having a routine really helps," he said. "There's loads of different stuff to do and every day it's something different - cooking, gardening, stress management."

Andrew plans to keep on making progress.

"It's the first time I've been in that I can see me actually getting sorted by the time I get out," he said.

"I'd love to tell other fellas in the prison that this project is worth it.

"I didn't think it would make such a difference to me in just a few weeks, but it's really helped."

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