PRISON worked for me, says one former Stroud inmate who was convicted of being a drugs mule.
He served four and a half years of a nine-year sentence after agreeing to carry cocaine into the country. At the time he was recovering from cancer and was heavily in debt, but describes his crime as the "biggest mistake of my life".
"Through sheer desperation at being in debt, I agreed to do a drugs run for somebody. I didn't know how much I was carrying, I just said I would do it," he said.
He pleaded guilty and said receiving his sentence was devastating. But the worst thing was "seeing the look on the faces" of his family.
"It's not just you that goes through the sentence, it's everybody that you love. They live the sentence with you," he said. "I didn't want that incident to be the defining point of my life. I grasped everything on offer in prison. I decided to make good use of the time. Otherwise, it would be an insult to my family."
The first eight months, spent on remand in Gloucester, were tough; locked in a small shared cell for 23 hours a day with a toilet just a foot away from the head of the bed.
"It's grim. There's no heating, a lot of the people I had to share with were drug addicts or not very nice characters."
But during the rest of his sentence, served in Channings Wood, Erlestoke and Leyhill prisons, he studied everything from creative writing and ceramics to money-management and dry-stone walling. He gained practical skills and Open University qualifications
His prison sentence was, he says, both rehabilitation and punishment.
"The biggest punishment for me was being away from my family. It's very difficult to keep in touch. It costs a lot to phone from prison, and in Gloucester, for instance, you are locked up 23 hours a day and there are just four or five phones for 200 people. Your contact is very limited."
Before he had never thought about there being any 'victims' to his crime.
"But I did come to recognise there were victims; all the people that were buying the cocaine that were struggling to pay their bills, that were messing up their lives. I hadn't though about it. When I committed a crime, all I thought about was getting myself out of trouble."
Prison worked for him, but not for those who didn't have the same determination.
"I saw people come and go two or three times during my sentence. And I've never been offered heroin more. I was offered it within the first 30 minutes of arriving in Gloucester. For some people, prison is far too easy.
"For people who don't have family or loved ones, and who might have a drug addiction, being in prison isn't a punishment. They get looked after, get three meals a day. For people who have nothing, prison is the better choice."
For some people, intervention before they ever reach prison is more appropriate, he suggests, and more community service.
"We should be asking, does this person need to go to prison? What will it achieve?"
He is still on probation, and is optimistic about his future.
He will be speaking at a debate in Archway School on Friday, November 23 organised by Positive Justice Gloucestershire. The motion, that "prison works" will be proposed by Andy Bees, of HMP Leyhill, and opposed by Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust and Stroud's former MP David Drew.
Doors open at 7pm.