Students hear from former prisoners at conference at University of Suffolk
- Credit: ADAM HOWLETT
Scores of Suffolk students have attended a conference on drug and gang culture - getting the chance to meet former prisoners who have turned their lives around.
More than 120 students from 12 schools and academies across Ipswich and Suffolk attended the ‘Making Good Choices’ conference at the University of Suffolk on Friday, which aimed to help them make better decisions in their lives.
Among the speakers was Curtis Blanc who became involved with drugs growing up in west London as a youngster and ended up in prison.
He said it was important to be honest with the students, to show them the consequences of making bad life choices and to inspire them to think about their futures.
“I struggled academically, fell out of love with education and just got wrapped up in, I suppose, just the politics of the “concrete jungle as they call it,” he said.
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“Growing up in a council estate, it’s a clichéd story, I fell into drugs and ended up in prison. I hate saying it but it’s the truth.”
Now a music entrepreneur, Mr Blanc uses his past experiences to inspire youngsters to make good decisions.
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“It is about showing people the reality in its rawness and hoping it might scare someone out of making a bad choice,” he said.
“The other element which is also a key part of changing someone’s outlook on life is inspiration. People need to be inspired to make a change.”
The students also heard from Paul Hannaford who became involved in a gang as a teenager.
He became of its leaders when he was 21 and was stabbed seven times in a clash with another gang.
After becoming addicted to heroin and crack cocaine he escaped a life of crime and now works as a motivational speaker.
He said: “120 students today got to hear my real life account and this is what could happen to them.
“Every kid in Suffolk deserves to be educated around the dangers of drugs, gangs and knife crime.
“If we don’t give it to them we fall short and leave them vulnerable.
“The whole day was extremely positive for all involved adults and pupils - hopefully they take away this positive message that they can make the right and healthy choice.”
Dr Simon Letman, headteacher of Holbrook Academy, said the conference was one a number of events to inspire students.
He said: “This is the first one where we have taken the theme of gang and drug culture mainly because out schools and heads of schools are becoming increasing concerned about the encroachment of this culture on out younger children. This is a way of making information available, the opportunity for reflection and to speak to those who offer alternatives to a that kind of a lifestyle.”
Craig D’Cunha, Principal of Chantry Academy, said: “We’ve had some fantastic speakers with criminal backgrounds come to motivate the students saying actually I made some very poor choices at a very young age and if I knew what I knew now I would have made a different choice and that is very important.”
The event was set up by the Network for East Anglia Collaborative Outreach (NEACO) and South West Ipswich and South Suffolk Partnership (SWISS).