Leaving behind a rapidly deteriorating family life in Nova Scotia, Mathew hitchhiked to Alberta in search for a fresh start at 16.
At first, he worked odd jobs and was able to afford to house himself. But as an emerging adult, alcoholism and drug addiction started to take a toll on his work, and he began to lose jobs. Then Mathew lost his home too. When there was no one to take him in, Mathew would sleep under overpasses and in bushes.
Even then, his main focus in life was getting his fix. “I just felt detached all the time. It was the weirdest thing. I just didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. So, there was a lot of self pity, self loathing and lots of dope to try and take the feeling away,” he said.
He started to rob banks in order to buy drugs and, as a result, has spent more than half of his life in prison. There were times when Mathew would leave prison with thoughts of turning his life around. But sooner or later, he would find himself buying drugs, or back in jail. “It wasn’t until I was actually given a viable alternative to what I was doing through a treatment center that I was given my opportunity.”
Mathew was given the number to Trilogy House, a recovery home in Surrey that assists men with their recovery programs from substance and alcohol abuse.
The environment at Trilogy House is the polar opposite of what Mathew experienced in the prisons. “In prison, nobody cared. Here, you get a sense of belonging, and you develop friendships. I feel like I got a home here, I feel welcome,” he said
“Being in prison for all those years, I got to a point where I could turn my emotions off. I just didn’t give a damn, or when I did, I just flicked the switch off. And, that switch was off for a lot of years, and I couldn’t turn it back on. I’m starting to figure out how to think and feel again,” he said.
While in the future he hopes to be independent again, with a job and perhaps a dog, for now he’s focusing on himself and recovery.
“There’s no pressure here,” he said. “If I got to work on my addiction issues for a year, so be it. If it takes three years, so be it. I can do it,” he said.
At the age of 55, Mathew still feels disbelief that he has come this far. He credits Trilogy House for providing the type of support he could not find back in Alberta. “Everyone that I know is absolutely amazed that I’m not back in prison or worse. It’s all due to the fact that I’m surrounded by, for the most part, positive people, who seem to be genuine in what they’re doing,” he said.
“Who knows where I would be right now, if I wasn’t here. If I didn’t have this opportunity. These places are an absolute necessity.”
by Sheetal Reddy