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A seven-part series of exclusive features focusing on different aspects of crime.
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Stuart used to deal heroin

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  "I am completely off drugs… It's been the best three months of my life,"
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Terry became a thief to fund his drug habit

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  "It's down to me to change, and I can only try,"
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Heroin users
Two former users have managed to turn around their lives
For many drug addicts, going to prison is the inevitable consequence of a criminal habit they cannot break. After their release, they are unable to resist the temptation of another fix. So they find themselves drawn back into a cycle of drug abuse, crime and imprisonment. It's called the "revolving door", and for too many the consequences are fatal.

In Scotland a total of 340 people died from drug misuse in 1999. Agencies that work with drug offenders question the value of imprisonment for addicts, and point to the success of programmes that provide treatment in the community.

BBC News Online spoke to two former heroin users in Glasgow who have managed to turn around their lives with the help of a charity called Phoenix House. Both avoided going to prison by agreeing to comply with a Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO). They asked to remain anonymous because of they did not want to jeopardise their opportunity for starting new lives. These are their stories.

AGE: 25
DRUG HISTORY: Began by sniffing glue at the age of 14, then ecstasy at 15, cannabis by the time he was 16, later followed by Valium and heroin. He says that when he was growing up "everyone was selling drugs" and he was dealing in heroin by the time he was 20.
CRIMES: Intending to supply heroin, assault and robbery. First jailed at the age of 18.

Stuart has just spent his first Christmas out of prison in four years. He has a long history of selling and using drugs. After a recent arrest he found himself back before the courts, and facing the prospect of another stretch behind bars.

"I got caught with drugs, jailed for having smack (heroin) on me," he says. "So I was in Barlinnie (Prison) and getting sentenced for stuff, and I was told about the DTTO. I had a choice of jail or getting assessed for this."

It didn't take Stuart long to weigh up his options.

"Obviously I'm going to want to be out rather than in prison, but at the same time, I was hoping to get something out of it. I'd never done anything before, never had any support or any help for my drug problem until I was in prison just at the beginning of the year and it's done brilliant for me."

Stuart was surprised to be given the chance of treatment outside of prison, and is in no doubt that if he had not been offered a place on the programme he would have ended up back in prison, probably for a couple of years. After his sentence he believes the chances are that he would have re-offended quickly.

"I'd be in jail for something else, more than likely. For the last five years I've never been straight. I'm a different person on drugs, a different person. The difference is that now I am completely off drugs. I didn't think I would be like this, the way I am now. It's been the best three months of my life. I've had the last three months completely sober," he says.

"You don't realise how bad you are until you're not using, and then you can see what you were like and how much of an idiot you were. But you don't realise it at the time."

Stuart admits that at first it wasn't easy getting off heroin, and the support of the staff at Phoenix House was vital: "It was a bit strange, but the longer it goes on, the easier it gets."

The idea of getting addicts to sign up for treatment in the community, rather then going to jail, will be extended soon when Scotland introduces drug courts.

"It's a brilliant idea," says Stuart. "Like myself now, I'm not just straight, I'm at college on a computer course and I'm going to do a degree. I want to get a job in graphic design. I have a life now, a different life. There are people like me in and out of jail through drugs, and they're not getting any help.

"This has changed my life, and it could change other people's lives now if they really want to do it."

AGE: 38
DRUG HISTORY: Started abusing solvents at the age of eight or nine, then progressed through cannabis, cocaine and heroin.
CRIMES: Possession and intent to supply cocaine and heroin. Motoring offences, shoplifting, stealing from warehouses.

Terry says he was hooked on heroin by the time he was 30 and sold heroin for seven years to finance his own drug use. He has been in and out of prison for the past 18 years. But he maintains he was an "ethical" thief because he stole from shops and warehouses rather than breaking into people's homes.He says that at one point he was spending "hundreds of pounds a day" on heroin, and needed the money from crime to pay for his habit, and maintain his lifestyle.

"You get used to it as a way of life," he says. "I've been incarcerated through drugs quite a lot. I was up at court (the last time) for cocaine and heroin, and I pleaded guilty expecting to get a custodial sentence. It was the judge who suggested the DTTO to my lawyer. So I got assessed and put on it, rather than going to prison for a few years."

Terry says that because of the help from Phoenix House, and the regular tests to check he has not been using drugs, he has been able to get clean. Previously, when trying by himself, he never lasted more than three months before looking for a fix. "You've got to give a urine sample, three days a week, and to me that's a deterrent. The longer you are clean, the easier it is to stay clean," he says.

Terry says he hopes this will be a turning point in his life, and knows that if he fails, he will end up back in prison. "It's down to me to change, and I can only try," he says. "If they'd had drug courts fifteen years ago the crime rate would be nowhere near where it is now."

Terry is clearly hoping that his drug taking and his criminal career is now firmly in the past. For the first time in years, he now has a positive view of his future.

"I can see clearer now," he explains. "I don't have that drug foggie in my eyes. You're blinded with drugs. When you get up in the morning, the only thing on your mind is heroin. You're a slave to it."

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