Celebrating Lives Transformed
"Hi, my name's Yana and I'm an addict," says a 37-year-old woman hunched over a table on a podium in central London. "Hi Yana," shouts the audience of counsellors, prison officers, probation workers, friends and fellow addicts.
Her obvious nervousness and vulnerability add to a heart-warming moment of redemption and epiphany in a day when scores of offenders reaffirm their new drug-free lives. Yet only five years ago, Yana Stewart would have happily smacked you in the face as soon as she looked at you.
In a life marred by misery, it was Yana's single piece of good fortune to find a place on an intensive drug treatment programme run by the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust. The charity's abstinence-based approach means that three quarters of those who complete the course stay off drugs and stay out of prison for life.
Yana went on to outline her life of addiction: "My mum was a drinker. She was Scottish and liked a drop of whisky. I had my first can of Tennent's [lager] when I was 12 - I liked it and I never stopped." Yana says the drink helped her escape her destructive family background.
By the time she was 17 Yana had two young children with a boyfriend who was hooked on drugs and in and out of prison. He died when he fell from a 10th-floor window during a burglary.
Shortly after her 18th birthday, Yana received her first prison sentence for assault and her children were taken into care.
The turning point came in 2007 when she was jailed for three years for beating up her mother during a crack cocaine-fuelled row. "I was sitting there in my cell for beating up my own mum and it made me feel ashamed." It took a life-changing event before Yana could finally break her addiction.
"I got a call in prison to say that my daughter had been hit by a car and she was in hospital in a coma. It was devastating." Yana's journey was one of scores of harrowing stories recounted by addicts. Yana has been out of prison for six months.