Through my eyes, who am I?
Service user, client, customer, patient, ex-offender, offender, prisoner, criminal, A1726AY, number, addict, junkie, coke head, alcoholic, drunk, referral, claimant, benefit scrounger, benefit cheat, resident, occupant, mentally ill, manic depressive, nutter, blind, blind idiot, partially sighted, visually impaired, four eyes, disabled, Spastic, Dyslexic, problem child, brain dead, stupid, thick, naughty.
These are just a few labels that have been given to me over last 30 years by many people and some professionals. Well I am Darren yes I am a person like yourselves, just with few added extras, also I am a citizen, citizen of Stoke-on-Trent an Expert citizen with lots of lived experience in the field off multiple complex needs. I don’t remember much about my childhood! However I do remember been given these labels and still to this day at 42 years old aim still been labelled!! I was told at such an early age that I was stupid thick naughty and I would never amount to nothing. I struggle to understand why no one would ever think this would affect me later on in life. The labels given to me over many years have taken away my personal identity and I have struggled to know who I am and how I fit into what some professionals would call mainstream society, these barriers I face on a day-to-day basis and it’s really difficult to understand who I’m meant to be in society.
One my first childhood memories is back in late 70’s… I was about six years old, I remember a dark green Rover car pulled up outside my mum’s house, a tall man got out the car, dressed in light gray suit green over coat brown shoes smelling of cigarettes and extra strong mints, I could even tell you what was playing on the radio, on a memorable September day! I was pushed into the back of the car and then we drove off, I was told that I was going away for short while to a special needs school in Coventry – to stop crying and shut up -naughty blind spastic! This was my first experience with someone who was meant to be supporting me!
Oh by the way, the short time was 11 years from then… I found myself mixed up in the world off addiction and crime for almost 20 years. I went to prison in 2010 for conspiracy to supply class A drugs. In prison there was no real support for me with my disabilities, however I found myself fitting in to the regime perfectly… yes, you could say I was the perfect model prisoner. I was released from prison December 2012, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with myself!
Well let’s not look back at the past too much, it’s about looking forward to the future and all of us coming together and supporting each other to make this city of ours, a much better place for everyone to live and get the right support they need to carry on their journey to recovery and more fulfilled lives. I was invited to attend focus group in 2013 where I was told about a great new amazing vision that someone like myself, a real person living with multiple complex needs, as a voice of real lived experience, to help others in this city (of Stoke).
Since becoming an expert citizen my life has become so much better, and I have achieved so much over the last 18 months – an NVQ level 3 Advice and Guidance, which to me, is the biggest achievement in my life apart from my children. Also I enrolled on an ICT level 2 Functional Skills, also completed my brighter futures foundation in support work and for the first time in my life I am looking forward to the future. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to share my story and experiences to help promote service change in the city.
Wow what a vision… that I Darren, Expert Citizen with a real opportunity to be able to give something back to the community off Stoke-on-Trent which for many years I helped to destroy.
I am one of the lucky ones who got the right support at the right time on my release from prison, support that has been tailor-made for myself, to me this is massively important. However I keep asking myself the question – where was this support all them years ago? We all need to remember we all experts in our own lives and not one cap fits all and we all need to remember to listen to the voices of our own expert citizens to help and make Stoke-on-Trent the lead city in supporting people with multiple complex needs. All of us today have the passion, the vision, the voice, the lived experience, to make a difference. I would like to ask you this question in your eyes – Who Am I Now Today?