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Life sentence: Offender shares story of successful reintegration
As a kid growing up in Ontario, Kyle wanted to either be a cop or a pilot some day. He never rooted for the bad guy and certainly never thought he'd wind up being a crook.
But once he started dabbling in drugs at the age of 12, things quickly spiraled out of control, leading him to a violent life of crime and his first federal sentence before the age of 18.
Instead of being a cop, Kyle ran over one in October 2008. Two Ontario police officers were checking a suspicious yellow pickup truck at the marina in Port Franks. After spotting suspected drugs, the officers attempted to arrest Kyle. But he resisted and fought with police before racing away in the truck, dragging one of the officers a short distance with him.
Most of Kyle's younger years are a haze. All that mattered was getting high. The things he does remember, he wishes he could forget.
“I was in a drug addled stupor. I was ruined for years. I didn't think I was going to do crime. I didn't make that decision at any point in my life. It just evolved. I thought I would stay high and bumble through life,” said Kyle, who did not want to publish his last name.
“Whenever you go to jail to straighten up, you're in with a whole crew of people that idolize s—t behaviour and it's a click. Everyone wants to belong. I fit in pretty easily as a violent drug addict.”
Kyle spent nine years off and on behind bars, wracking up 52 convictions that included nine violent confrontations. When he turned 30, he decided he didn't want to spend any more birthdays in prison. That's when he started asking for help to combat his serious drug addiction.
After five failed tries at a successful reintegration back into society in Ontario, Kyle did his research and decided the Salvation Army CRF (community residential facility) in downtown Victoria was the best place to get a fresh start due to its high rate of successful parole completion. In November 2015, the now 39-year-old was granted statutory release and came to the halfway house with a less than 30 per cent chance of a successful reintegration.
But this time he felt things would be different during his time living in the halfway house with 47 other offenders, and he took the eight-week intensive Skills Recovery Program that's designed for those with a history of problematic substance abuse.
Kyle felt like the staff were happy to have him and they didn't give him any more conditions or constraints on top of the ones he already had. The program opened his eyes to the opportunities Victoria presented and allowed him the time to shake off the “old bulls—t” rather than find work immediately like he was required to do in Ontario.
“They didn't start busting my balls as to why I got so messed up. They just told me to do something different,” said Kyle, noting people in Victoria are very accepting.
“It's (the program) a couple months of them hanging out with you and showing you Victoria and what straight people do and how fun it is with a regular, straight john life.”
Kyle doesn't believe the nines year spent in and out of prison or any of the other programs he took is what finally kicked his addiction. It was mainly the birth of his three-year-old daughter, who he's never met but talks to on a regular basis through Skype.
Kyle is proud to say he's been clean for three years now and feels useless to his daughter if he goes back to prison. He lives on his own and works full-time as a framer, attending a sobriety support group once a week, plays hockey every weekend and meditates with a group to keep him level headed.
Having a decent upbringing, Kyle can't put a finger on what lead to a life of crime and he continues to deal with resentment and animosity towards authority. Being a “straight john,” however, has given him an appreciation for life he never knew he had.
“It feels like I've been neglecting life for quite some time. I'm just a regular guy now,” said Kyle, who left the halfway house within seven months, even though he could have stayed longer. “Nobody wants to be told what to do, but now looking back on my life, I wish I had someone telling me what to do...I was a fragile person looking to escape."
This is the final installment of the three-part series, Life Sentence. For the previous piece: Offenders need more support for successful integration, click here.