Ready to make a change. My life by James

Harm reduction provides hope, and path forward. I’m living proof of this.

I was born in 1983 to parents Richard and Kerri. I have one brother and two sisters. Growing up, there was much turmoil in the home, including substance use by the adults. As you can imagine, it was a very dysfunctional environment. When I was 13, I hitchhiked around Canada. My life at that time was one of significant mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Always on the go, I met many people during my travels. Some were kind, but others took advantage of me. This was my reality as I tried to escape—a reality that is much different than most 13-year-olds in Canada.

My earliest positive memories were when I was 11. I had good friends and did fun things in my community, but the positive memories have been few and far between since that time. Much of my life has been marked by sad experiences that have had a serious impact on me—experiences that are difficult for people who have not lived like I have to understand.

When I was 10, I was removed from my home and missed my family dearly. I loved school, especially elementary school, and enjoyed high school in a modified class due to learning disabilities. My teachers had challenges with my learning abilities, but overall they were kind-hearted and worked with me.

“Where is someone supposed to start? It is almost as if the system is set up for us to fail.”

My teenage years were spent cycling through group homes and young offenders facilities. As an adult, I have spent 11-and-half years in prison. I was in provincial and federal penitentiary for a range of charges. I have been out of prison for four years now. During many of these years I have been in and out of hotels, and been evicted from many apartments. The constant instability has made it extremely challenging. For those who are recently released, there are very few support services to help readjust to the world outside. It is an isolating experience. Where is someone supposed to start? It is almost as if the system is set up for us to fail.

I have been chosen by a committee to be housed here in Housing First (a 16-unit housing first facility in Whitehorse, Yukon). I have been here for one year now, and it has made a huge difference. At this place, harm reduction is followed. The tenants have access to unused, safe drug paraphernalia. But most importantly, if you want access to any service, the staff will help you find it. This includes mental, financial, social, legal, and medical help. When people say harm reduction “enables” drug use, it simply isn’t true. Harm reduction helps connect people with life-saving services that help them turn their lives around. It provides hope, and a path forward. I’m living proof of this.

I have struggled with drug addiction most of my life. I began when I was 13 years old with drinking and smoking. It progressed to cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth. This is not the life I want to live anymore.

It’s time for a change. Like everyone, I have hopes and dreams. I have come to a point in my life now that I want a change. I am tired of living this way and know there is a better path. I have decided to go to treatment and give it a good try. I know it won’t be easy, but important things often aren’t. I hope to buy a piece of land and build a home in the future. I would like to maintain sobriety, become involved in the community, and give back. These are my hopes and dreams. I know I will get there.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca