Steve Hook meets Ian Evans, who says his life has been transformed by a vocational training programme
IAN Evans remembers only too well how irresistible the lure of a rush of heroin to the brain can be to a person who feels trapped outside society.
He started a casual acquaintance with the drug only to find himself ending up as dependent on it as someone locked into an abusive relationship, his self-
esteem so low he couldn't kick the habit.
Ian, 32, is the sort of individual the Government must reach if its battle against social exclusion is going to pay off.
"I knew people's perception of heroin addicts," he said. "I felt I was on the bottom of the social ladder. People were looking down on me and I began to believe they were right to."
Now, he is clean, having kept off heroin since Christmas. His aspirations have been lifted. He plays drums in a band on the Liverpool club circuit.
He enthuses about the prospect of a company pension, being able to "sit at home and watch Coronation Street" or "go out for a bevvy once or twice a week like normal people do".
This is a man who has re-discovered the dignity of work and the stability of "normal" life. A man whose story is testimony to the ability of lifelong learning to pass one of its toughest tests - raising the self-esteem of a generation lost to drugs.
Ian, now in a full-time job, is in no doubt that the Social Partnership, based in the centre of Liverpool, is the reason for his change of lifestyle.
It specialises in helping people with a history of drug abuse. It has had some success getting support from the insurance industry - no surprise bearing in mind a typical heroin habit costs pound;200 a week and there are an estimated 13,000 criminal drug-users in Merseyside.
"If it wasn't for that place, I'd probably still be using heroin," he says.
He joined the charity's Transit programme - which provides vocational training, gaining an RSA level 2 in information business technology and a level 1 in computer literacy and information technology as well as completing a St John Ambulance course in first aid and a Health and Safety Executive qualification.
Then, the charity's Quantum Leap programme was used to help him into a job with a cable television company.
Quantum Leap is one of several projects around the country funded by the Department for Education and Employment and the proceeds of the cofiscated assets of people convicted of drugs offences (see story below).
Ian Evans is back living at his parents' house on the site of the now-demolished hospital in Anfield where he was born.
He struggles to find any hard- luck stories to explain how he ended up on heroin.
He shrugs his shoulders as he describes his drug history - how he smoked his first cannabis joint at 13, then began experimenting with LSD and speed before smoking heroin for the first time in 1985, when he was studying catering on a Youth Training Scheme.
"I suppose I was a bit spoilt as a kid, being the only one. My gran lived with us in the house. When I was a child we shared the same room.
"One morning people came into the room and there was all this commotion going on. Then I realised she'd died in the night.
"She was a big influence on me. We were really close. I suppose if you were a psychiatrist or something you might say that had something to do with me taking drugs but I'm not really sure about that.
"I did drugs because some of the people I was hanging out with were taking them. It was just there.
"I did cannabis, LSD, speed. Just took it. It was a mixture of peer-group pressure and, I suppose, curiosity.
"I wasn't poor, I wasn't abused as a kid, nothing like that. Heroin was available, I'd taken the other stuff, and I thought 'I'll try some of this'. It was as simple as that.
"I suppose I did it for about six months before I realised I had a problem."
The following year, he did a three-month maritime training course in Gravesend, Kent, before joining the Merchant Navy on the North Sea oil fields.
It was a decent, well-paid job which lasted for five years but the good pay, combined with long periods of shore leave, made it all too easy to return to his habit.
He would then use black market methadone to wean himself off heroin once back at sea.
"I didn't even look like the
stereotype because I wore clean clothes but you could see it in my face. I'd let myself go. I was Mr Heroin Head.
"Before Transit got involved, I could hardly be bothered to get out of bed in the morning. Now I'm so used to being in a routine, having to be at a certain place at a certain time, I wake up at at 7am even at weekends.
"What this studying did is it got me to the point that I don't feel like I'm bottom of the ladder. I have started to claw my way out."