The story of Andrii who went through a difficult path as a drug addict and now is officially employed and is thinking about self-development

Jul 18, 2020 | Judiciary, Justice, Probation
In European countries, imprisonment is an exceptional measure of punishment. After all, its negative impact on mentality and behavior of anyone who has ever been behind bars has long been proven. For the most part, people who have committed minor crimes and who do not endanger the lives and health of others are got back on track in a community where offenders serve non-custodial sentences.

Such a convict may be required to undergo rehabilitation to get rid of certain addictions, they may be assigned free work for the benefit of the community, may be barred from communicating with a certain group of persons, and conditions may be determined for violation of which they may be imprisoned.

Probation is an alternative to imprisonment. This is a chance for a person who has committed an offense not to become a criminal in the eyes of the community but to correct his mistake in the eyes of the community, to compensate for the material and moral damage. With the professional support of probation staff, social services and activists, a hostage of his fate serves the sentence imposed by the court, but does not lose socially useful ties, stays in the community and family, learns to see his mistakes and correct them and finds new friends and comes back to law-abiding life.

In Ukraine, this practice was introduced in February 2015 after the Law "On Probation" was adopted. Since 2017, after the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers under the leadership of the State Institution "Probation Center" in all cities and districts probation bodies are established that not only provide control over the enforcement of sentences without imprisonment (as once criminal executive inspections did), but also via using modern international practices and tools identify the reasons that motivated a person to commit a crime and help to provide comprehensive lifestyle change assistance to create an environment in which the offender will seek to live without committing new crimes. Authorities, non-governmental organizations and people concerned who become probation volunteers help in this endeavor.

In the joint special TSN.ua project with the Probation Center and EU Project Pravo-Justice we are telling success stories of socialization of convicts. Journalists met such people in Kivertsi, Kharkiv, Bila Tserkva and Chernihiv to learn about the role of the Probation Center in their lives, personal achievements and plans for the future which not so long ago could have been nullified if they were imprisoned.

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The story of Andrii who went through a difficult path as a drug addict and now is officially employed and is thinking about self-development

The 1990s coincided with Andrii's adolescence and brought drug addiction into his life. It was drugs that caused quarrels with relatives, health problems and troubles with law, two terms behind bars and two suspended sentences.

Andrii Matvieiev went through a difficult path as a drug addict and lost the trust of his closest people. He exchanged education and a prestigious job for drugs that nearly killed him. Only his parents' love saved his life. He was repeatedly convicted, he knows what it is like to be behind bars and he was a probation client. He served his sentence with probation, but he remains part of probation. In early 2019, Andrii found a job, learned true love and believed in himself, but is still afraid to fail. In the fight against drugs, he is assisted by relatives and Probation Center staff.

In an interview, 38-year-old Andrii was abrupt and dry which gave the impression that he does not like to talk. He came to the meeting earlier than the time specified with a mask in his hands. The man sat down at a safe distance (as far as the bench allowed) and it was clear that he was worried. But a few minutes later, he spoke freely and calmly about his quarantine and local transport in which the rules on the number of passengers were violated.

Andrii was born in Komsomolsk, Mordovia. As his father was in the military, the family was forced to move to the Irkutsk region and then to Hungary. In 1989 they went to the town of Uzyn in Kyiv region where Andrii studied until the 10th grade and he finished the 11th grade at the school №7 of Bila Tserkva.

Moving house did not prevent Andrii from studying. There were no problems with making new friends as the boy got used to moving, so social skills and "newcomer" status helped to quickly get used to a new place. Andrii had a hobby that brought him closer to his father - aviation. Together with his dad-pilot they spent a lot of time measuring, crafting and painting, and eventually the boy created a considerable collection of models.

However, amidst all this prosperity lurked a test that whacked the fate of the boy and that of his entire family. Andrii's adolescence coincided with the 90s. "People who used drugs looked cool to us. We looked at them, we wanted to be like them. We watched movies and thought it was a cool way to live,” says the man with noticeable sadness.

At school, almost everyone used soft drugs, could sometimes drink, sometimes smoke.

Weed was easy to find then. And still is, only now everything is done via the Internet, but before it was like you know a person, come in, give money, take it. Back then it was cheaper than now. Everyone around me did so. And I did it so as not to stand out.

In the second year at the university, students and teachers began to notice changes in his behavior, so when parents came to find out about their son's grades, they were told everything. The relatives decided that he should take a study leave. They wanted help the child. They began to take care of his health, tried to make him get clean, sent him to a rehab and then to his grandfather in Mordovia. The withdrawal syndrome passed in a few weeks, but the desire to use did not go away. Andrii compares his return to the second year of the academy with a dog released from the chain. Then it became clear that he would not continue his studies.

His father decided that if his son did not want to study, he would join the army. But even there he did not stop using. Due to changes in the place of service, he could not do it so often, but, as Andrii says, he "wet his beak" at the first opportunity.

Nothing has changed after the army either. He continued to live with his parents. It was difficult for the relatives to see his condition, they tried to talk and persuade him, but it didn't work, so they even kicked him out of the house. But there was no positive result, no influence on the worldview of then 24-year-old Andrii. He calls the plan of everyday life "a minimum program." It was based on the fact that you had to wake up, go deceive someone, find, take, use. Sometimes he could go the same in the evening. This program led to prison.

Andrii was convicted of theft. But it was not the first theft, the man admits, "The first time I was caught (ed: stealing) - my parents helped ... The second time they helped ... When I was caught for the ninth time, my parents made a helpless gesture and said, "We would like to help, but we have no money. And secondly, we no longer have a desire and we do not see the point in it. If you are so eager to go there, then go".

At first it was difficult, because the withdrawal syndrome was happening behind bars. But the young body coped with it quickly. Out of fun things to do Andrii remembers sewing: the colonies practice social involvement - prisoners learn the professions of welder, turner and others. Andrii studied to be an outerwear cutter and even received a 3rd grade diploma. Still, this still did not change the man's habits, "Out of 10 people from one town, there will be 3-4 of them using drugs (Irpin and Bila Tserkva at that time were inundated with drug addicts). But in prison there were 10 drug users out of 10 people. And people don't just sit there, they constantly come up with something. It is easier to outwit the system than to get rid of your habits. You can continue using in prison no worse than out of it."

Andrii said there was nothing to fear: the police would not catch him. Of course, there are supervisors, so you also have to hide. If still caught, a person was put in a pre-trial detention center for 15 days or in heavy security barracks.

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No one has been changed by prison policy so far. Only a person who wants to change oneself will change, and it does not matter where he/she is.

Four years later, Andrii was released from prison. In the first minutes at home he sat down in a chair and realized how much time had passed, but nothing changed in his mind. Only drugs - they became even stronger. His parents understood this from the first days and sank into despair. His father even said, “If I helped you at first, the spark in me has not gone out yet, now you have extinguished everything in me. If you go behind the bars again, I will not come to you and I will not send you a parcel." But Andrii paid no attention to it and continued his lifestyle and 11 months later he was caught stealing. Now he went behind the bars for 5 years.

The father really kept his promise for two years, and the mother secretly helped her son. Andrii served his second term in the Bucha penal colony. But this time it was easier to be behind the bars because he had the experience of being in such places. The second imprisonment also did not change anything in the man's mind. After his release, the drugs became heavier. "If before they were taken "from nature", in 2015 they became synthetic, the body was being destroyed even more and very quickly. It really impacted the health, it became difficult to recover at older age. My parents no longer perceived me as their son. The body was so saturated with drugs that the suppressed instinct of self-preservation began to wake up and say, "Hey, slow down". But the system was so dense that thoughts and desires for change came and went. "I used to live to use, and then I started to use to live,” says Andrii, looking around the park.

According to Kateryna Hryshchenko, leading inspector at the Bila Tserkva City District Department of the Probation Center in Kyiv and Kyiv Region who has been supervising the convict for three years, “Andrii has indeed been convicted of theft, drug use and fraud. Reason? - He did not realize his problem, did not understand that he needed to change, did not see his future without criminal environment, without gang friends, especially without drugs, which at that time gave him another world, a world without problems, only pleasure."

In December 2016, Andrii was again sentenced to 3 years in prison for possession of drugs. However, the court released the man on probation - set a probationary period of 3 years. That is how Andrii found himself in probation.

According to inspector Kateryna Hryshchenko, “The conversation with the latter did not work out at all, he did not want to discuss the problems, did not believe in the help of specialists, did not find a motive, reasons for changing. Each of our meetings meant that the client did not believe in the sincerity of such conversations, he did not want to listen, just nodded his head, so he went to the department reluctantly, but Andrii had no choice: either he had to go to probation, or would get back to prison - for non-compliance with the conditions of suspended sentence.

At each meeting with the probation client, preventive talks were taken to reducing drug abuse, talking about the impact of drugs on health, the need to find a job and improve one's financial situation, the influence of friends-offenders on his behavior, readiness to change lifestyle ... All these factors are the so-called criminogenic needs that were identified in Andrii during the assessment of re-offending risks and on which it was necessary to work hard to minimize the likelihood of re-offending.

But everything changed only when, as Andrii says, he died… Because of overdose he was taken to the intensive care unit, where he fought for his life for 5 days. When his condition stabilized, his father paid again, but this time for the rehabilitation center. When he regained consciousness, Andrii could not understand what was happening for a long time, and in just a few days he was able to remember all the events before ICU. Everyone around started saying, “Do you know what happened to you? You almost died. You should have seen your father…"

Now Andrii tells his thoughts of that time emotionally, experiencing them once again, “Something broke inside me and I decided: whatever it is, but I have to try. As many days as my father paid for my staying here, I will stay here. I don't know what will happen next, I won't make any plans."

And then he spoke with a slight smile, remembering the people from the rehabilitation center "Fortress". "They have their own slogan: "Sober, healthy, reliable." And there is always support, they really do their best. Anyone who gets there does not want to get over their past, but the guys start to inform them, to work with them. They have a program: affusion, daily exercise, physical education, working part (for example, chopping firewood). And a person wakes up, knows that he needs to exercise, clean the house, have breakfast, go to the information unit ..."

Some time later, Andrii was assigned to help and supervise the work of newcomers, which was a good lesson of responsibility as Andrii admits.

Experienced employees of the center warned when to wait for outbreaks - a sudden desire to give up everything and a thought that one has already recovered. Over time, Andrii saw it for himself. In addition, he began to see himself in men who were just coming to the center, he began to understand that it is difficult for everyone and everyone is experiencing these outbreaks.

"I will dispel the myth "a month for me would be enough months", "I will get over withdrawal symptoms and it will be easy for me." No. At least six months, and preferably 9 months. If you are a mummy's boy and a domestic terrorist who used to buy drugs at your mother's expense, then you should be there for a year and a half,” Andrii now shares his experience emotionally. He himself stayed there for 13 months, 6 of them without the right to leave the territory on his own.

The rehabilitation center has its own slogan, "Sober, healthy, reliable." And there the guys always support, really do their best. Anyone who gets there does not want to get over their past, but the guys start to give information to them, work with them.

When Andrii found himself in rehabilitation, he was still on probationary period. He was assigned responsibilities that required strict performance. One of them is to appear for registration with the probation office, moreover, twice a month. According to the rules of the rehabilitation center, Andrii was not allowed to leave the territory of the center without permission. This conflict has been easily resolved as probation authorities work with many governmental and non-governmental organizations, institutions and enterprises to achieve a common goal - rehabilitation and social adaptation of persons in conflict with the law who are usually in difficult life circumstances.

NGOs, rehabilitation centers, volunteers (the so-called probation resource bank) help probation staff to work with its clients: some provide psychological or legal counseling, others help find employment, involve others in rehabilitation programs, and help others with food and supplies. Solving the problems and needs of probation clients is an important support in changing the offender, it restores trust in people, motivates a person to change abandon criminal lifestyle.

This approach to solving the problem worked in Andrii's life. The head of the rehabilitation center to which the man was admitted was understood and supported by the local probation unit. Staff of the two bodies agreed on joint actions and the procedure for serving Andrii's sentence without violating the requirements of the rehabilitation program, agreed to promptly inform about any changes in the man's life and cooperation for his successful rehabilitation.

Andrii later appreciated the care and desire of many people to help him get out of the abyss into which he had deliberately slipped. In the seventh month of rehabilitation, Andrii was allowed to leave the rehabilitation center on his own, visit his parents and the probation department.

There was still a year of community service ahead. According to the re-assessment of re-offending risks, at that time employment, improvement of financial situation and readiness for change were still relevant for Andrii. Each time during the visit to the probation unit, the inspector offered Andrii to visit the Employment Center, but he refused for a long time, afraid to hear the shameful labels "prisoner", "drug addict" in respect of him.

"They (probation units - ed.) have such programs as psychological and social assistance, lawyers, attorneys ... I personally did not ask for help, I did not believe that someone could know better than me what I need, and so more how to solve my problems. But Kateryna Vasylivna said, "So, you must go to the 25th office today, a psychologist is waiting for you there." Next time you come, and she says, "So, go to such an office, you will get a free of charge consultation of a lawyer." If you have difficulties getting a job, in social life, the lawyer can explain how and what to do correctly. There was so much help for me the last year I went to probation,” Andrii now says with a smile. In addition, the man talked a lot with a psychologist.

The man says that probation teaches to have responsibilities, to plan your schedule so as not to miss the appointment, makes you think about your actions and behavior, plan your future and solve problems. In addition, such a trusting attitude of the inspector motivates him to become better. He is sure that even after the last appointment at the Probation Center, in years to come they will meet somewhere on the street and she will ask about his life. And most of all Andrii is afraid to return to the old way of life, not to meet the expectations of people who were patiently helping him get rid of addiction for a long time.

He now speaks with warmth and gratitude about the rehabilitation and probation centers. He admits that he can sometimes call on them for support and calls it "getting resources", as in video games. The man admits that he also found new friends there: they sometimes meet for tea with one of the acquaintances who was also registered at the Probation Center to discuss their everyday life; support each other, share plans for the future.

During the conversation it becomes clear that Andrii does not hide the truth about his life so that others can learn a lesson from it, so that they can see an example of how to put an end to it, stop using drugs and come back to normal life. He also thinks that if as many people as possible know about his even a small victory over himself, they will find more understanding and support from others and will not fail.

Currently, the man is actively making plans for the future and is happy to talk about them: to improve health, get a driving license and climb the career ladder, but not because of financial needs, but for self-development. But the main goal is not to fail. "I have a job, a niece, parents, I rent an apartment. The only people who need you with all your problems are your loved ones. Parents will always support - no matter how many times you hurt them. They will cry and be angry, but they will be there. I met a woman with a child. And there is a niece who was left a complete orphan, supported by my parents. I realized that they are all very-very dear to me. I do not want to hurt them. This is a big restraining factor for me,” he says warmly.

In addition, Andrii thinks about his distant future and confidently talks about a contract with the insurance company to which he transfers a certain amount of funds each year to get pension payments in old-age.

I want to be confident in my future. Can you imagine, all my life I was not sure of anything, and now I am slowly starting to build this lacking confidence. And I like what I get and I don't want to lose it.

Taking the opportunity, Andrii gives advice to people who find themselves in a situation he once experienced himself, “There is nothing impossible. If there is a desire, then everything will work out. You are no longer a child, you must understand that this is not a kindergarten and what you do is no trifle. If you have the desire to deal with it, then you can. There are people who will help. You just have to trust them."

Andrii then offered to walk to the amusement park, to the poster where he is depicted. He gladly showed himself in the photo, thinking for a second, looking at the poster. Then, walking between the swings, he told how often during quarantine he came there with his niece, girlfriend and her child.

…Andrii's story can be instructive for some people, someone will get up the nerve to have a preventive conversation with their children. And for probation staff it is one of thousands of success stories when thanks to the professionalism of probation staff, support of relatives, participation of partner organizations it was possible to motivate a person with addiction and problems with the law to positive changes, help solve their problems, find their place in life and become useful to your community. But the most important thing is to prevent new crimes that could affect other people.

Currently, in Bila Tserkva District Probation Department there are 583 persons registered who are sentenced to criminal penalties and persons on who administrative penalties have been imposed (community service, fines, etc.). Since the beginning of 2020, 777 people have been registered in this unit alone. In Ukraine as a whole, more than 100,000 people sentenced to non-custodial sentences are registered with probation bodies every year.

Probation is the security of society and an opportunity for change for those who have already stumbled in life. Probation staff provide control and supervision over the serving of sentences in the community, in general conduct social and educational work with probation clients aimed at changing pro-criminal thinking, getting rid of addictions, forming life skills; they involve partner organizations to address criminogenic needs - factors that have led to offence and in the future (without solving problems) can lead to new crimes.

Kateryna Hryshchenko, leading inspector of the Bila Tserkva Probation Department who has been working in the penitentiary system of Ukraine since 2013 says that “the main task of working with convicts registered with probation bodies is to help them understand their problems, their situations and their past, realize the responsibility for what they have done and support them on the path of change".

The town of Bila Tserkva is often called the town of good by tourists and locals. And officials of different levels prove these words to be true. At the end of last year, with the assistance of NORLAU Probation Project, an updated probation unit was opened in the town - a model probation office created according to European standards. Such an office exists only in Kharkiv. Modern conditions for working with probation clients are created in the new office, it provides interactive areas for individual communication and group activities. Proper equipment allows to introduce various forms of work with offenders to find the most effective forms of influence and ways to solve various problems. Here psychological, legal and social assistance is provided, psycho-correctional and preventive work is conducted, assistance is provided in solving various social needs, clients are involved in socially useful activities and cultural events.

When we talked about Andrii, the inspector spoke with noticeable joy about the changes in his life, "When Andrii came to us in the beginning, he refused any help at all, saying, 'Nothing will help in my life.' We talked to him, had conversations, engaged a psychologist. Then, I remember well, I said, "Andrii, let's try to get you a job?". And he said, 'But who will employ me? I'm nobody in this life.' But I was persuading, "Well, Andrii, it's worth a try." He repeatedly refused to go to the employment center. Such a conversation took place at the beginning of winter, and after the season holidays he came and said, “Kateryna Vasylivna, I have got a job. I could never believe that I would really be employed as a security guard." I was glad that the man still believed in himself and me and got a job. And this with numerous previous convictions, serving a sentence… He was not afraid and he got a job." Kateryna Vasylivna also notes that the support of his relatives and friends is extremely important for changing the behavior and lifestyle of the offender. Often people want to help their relatives, but do not know what to do, where to start. They themselves need support and help. "We were constantly in touch with Andrii's parents, they were constantly seeking advice what needed to be done to help him. They really worried about him," said the inspector.

Andrii has already served his sentence and is no longer registered at the Probation Center. But from time to time he comes to the unit, communicates with "his" inspector. He calls her and congratulates on the holidays, sometimes asking for advice. But from time to time he talks about changes in his life. And every small achievement, such as a reasonable solution to a problem or refusing to take drugs from "old friends" in this situation is a victory over the great evil which broke so many human lives but did not conquer Andrii.