Barnaby grew up in Scotland where he did well at school and played football for his hometown team. At the age of 14 he became involved in a local gang and was expelled. He moved to an approved school where he started selling drugs. When Barnaby was 20 his dad died of a heart attack which really shook him. Barnaby was ‘controlling’ a housing estate through acts of violence, his best friend was murdered by a rival gang.
At the age of 52, Barnaby tells me that it is a miracle he is still alive: “I never thought I would live this long. People told me I’d never see 30.” He has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison and has served over 20 years in total. He first went to prison at 16 and he was 51 when he was last released from prison. “I was involved in crime and the criminal justice system for 37 years.” Now, Barnaby has completely turned his back on his past; even if he wanted to return to that lifestyle, he knows he is too old for it.
Barnaby describes his situation before he was accepted onto the Tenancy Ready Scheme as “hopelessness and despair.” He was living in a tiny private rented bedsit in Exeter. This was so small that it did not have room for a bed, and he had to stand his mattress against the wall to have any floor space during the day; “it was suffocating”. He felt very depressed to the point where he was contemplating suicide. It was as if he was back in a prison cell: “I felt like I’d been given a prison sentence and the walls were closing in on me.” The poor living conditions were also detrimental to his physical health and he was forced to stop his voluntary work.
Because of the seriousness of his situation, we moved Barnaby into one of BCHA’s second stage supported housing projects. He is now living in a shared house and his bedroom is nearly three times as big as his bedsit. There has been an almost immediate difference: he is feeling much happier now and has started volunteering again. “I’ve only moved about 100 yards, but it feels like I’ve moved 100 miles mentally. It’s like I’ve gone from minus half a star to five stars!” He has also started as a peer mentor for a charity that support people who are over 50 when they are released from prison. He believes that this move prevented him from returning to his previous lifestyle. He was planning on returning to Scotland and is certain that because of his reputation, would have either have ended up back in prison or been killed.
The story doesn’t end here for Barnaby. He is much happier now and appreciates the support where he is living, but there is still a feeling of being institutionalised because he has lived most of his life in ‘the system’. The next step will be moving him into a social housing flat. He can’t wait to “be able to walk out of my own front door”. He feels this is the last hurdle he needs to jump in order to fully regain his independence and have a secure home: “when I get my own place, it will be the last time I ever move.”