Going to prison back in 2004 was absolutely daunting for me. The whole thing was a nightmare and of course mental health issues were there. My headspace and way of comprehending things was at an all-time low. I met Sheila from the Cork Alliance Centre in Portlaoise for the first time, I think in 2008 some time, as she would say to me the meeting was a blur, but when I got released from Portlaoise I got a lift from the lovely Chaplain to Cork - to the Cork Alliance.
To be honest I did not know what was going to happen. I had no family or friends support, so I was alone with the whole process. The fear, the anxiety was extremely bad also. Going to the centre for first time I dreaded everything - my communication skills, confidence and my way of thinking was rock bottom. Even filling out forms and housing and financial stuff I had no idea how to go about that. Even going on a bus on my own was a nightmare, or to talk to anyone was not good. Like I would say, "pull myself together", "get on with it", but you would have to experience it to really understand everything. As we all know the process was tough and shaky at times. Even everyday functioning was extremely bad. Because of my offence I could not have stayed in homeless shelters, I would have been on the streets. They got me my disability allowance sorted and a B&B for a few months. As time when on I got more comfortable with them and gaining confidence, no judgements, a caring crowd.
Move forward a few years, I'm living independent, my confidence is very good, my communication skills have vastly improved - some would say I never shut-up. My mental health is very good for a few years now, due to counselling and massive support from the Cork Alliance. It was not easy to get to know me, as I was very distant, lost in my own headspace. My thought process was negative, but I am amazed today with the changes, I have transformed my mental and physical health.
Only for the Cork Alliance, seriously I would not know where I would be today. I gained skills to help myself, and having a friendly face to chat to about issues that affect me on a daily basis helps. They go over and above, I walk in with no appointment - they are very accommodating and will sort things - I go away with "I can do anything if I put my mind to it".
I'm going there over 8 years now, I've a good relationship with them now, they know me better than I do myself. Just someone to listen to you is a great thing that someone can do, I am working on that myself. Even to this day like dealing with rent, banking issues or my mental health stuff, they are at the end of the phone, no waiting lists or anything. I can get an appointment the same day or the following day at the latest.
Just imagine going to prison for years, no family or other supports, getting out not knowing where you are going to end up. Having the Cork Alliance Centre helped dramatically making me the person I am today, living independently, no issues with buses now. I have done many courses, I've better concentration and focus. My positivity for life is amazing. I can say my future will hold great things if I look after myself. All good things in life need commitment and perseverance, I'm doing well at that also. To get back to work and have peace of mind, and be able to talk about anything going on in my life, is better than any medication. The freedom in one's mind - thought process can only save you from yourself. Exercising and eating healthy is very important too. If you put the work in you will get great results.
The Cork Alliance basically built me back up to get back into society with confidence and skills to deal with any situation in life. What's more important health or wealth? To have a buzz for life again and great contentment for anything I do in the future. I'm in great place for a while now, so from here only upwards and onwards. Its mostly down to the Cork Alliance Centre for changing my beliefs and behaviours, how I treat others, how I look at life now - every day is a school day, learn something new all the time.
Sincere thanks to all at the Cork Alliance, especially Sheila for challenging me on thinking process and helping myself and taking responsibility for my actions as Sheila would say be an adult, not the child. I hope the Cork Alliance has a bright future ahead, as there are not many organisations that help ex-prisoners - we are all human, no matter what our faults.