25-year-old Mark has always felt alone.

He came to the ReConnect program after serving his third sentence in four years, and with a history of untreated mental illness and drug misuse. He wasn’t very interested in talking about his mental health struggles, and was sceptical about how VACRO could help.

When Mark was released from prison, our case manager helped him organise some groceries and move into a friend’s spare room. We linked Mark up with the psychologist he’d been referred to while in prison. Mark had agreed to the referral, but was feeling apprehensive: he’d never spoken to a professional about his mental health before, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, he wasn’t able to meet his psychologist, Louise, in person. But we encouraged him to give it a go, and his first two phone sessions went well.

But two months into Mark’s release, it was becoming clear that he was struggling to adjust to life in the community. He told his case manager he felt isolated, having to spend so much time by himself. He was having problems with his girlfriend, and he missed two psychologist sessions in a row. Mark’s brother told Louise he was doing it tough.

Our case manager immediately organised to catch up with Mark at a local café. There, Mark opened up about feeling depressed and unstable. He said he’d always struggled to ask for help, but was trying to be more honest, to avoid shutting himself off. He admitted a recent relapse on ice and pokies, and said he felt ashamed. Mark’s case manager listened, and asked Mark about a previous conversation they’d had about Mark finding a new job in the rail industry – Mark was interested, and the case manager set up a call with an employment support program. Our case manager then relayed this back to Louise, and agreed to stay in touch to monitor Mark’s situation as he worked to get things on track.

But at four months out of prison, things were still tough. Mark was lonely, isolated, disengaged from his counselling, and his girlfriend had ended their relationship. But he contacted his case manager – he said he needed help. We rang.

Mark told his case manager he struggled to deal with the intensity of his emotions and turned to ice to cope. His case manager acknowledged the difficulty of his situation, and said he’d check in again in the next few days. Mark gave us permission to tell Louise about his recent troubles, which led her to set up a face-to-face appointment and a safety plan to manage Mark’s emotional state. After the appointment, Mark told us he was feeling more prepared if he should feel so hopeless and distressed again.

Now, things are on track. Mark passed his driver’s license test, which meant he could enrol in the rail work course and start a casual labouring job. Going for motorbike rides out of town helped him clear his mind – he told his case manager he was coping better with his break-up, and now wants to work on feeling relaxed on his own. Louise referred Mark to a local psychologist for ongoing support after the end of his post-prison programs, and he even said he was looking forward to meeting the new counsellor.

When we said goodbye, Mark told his case manager he’s always been plagued by loneliness and isolation, but knowing what support is available to him helps him feel less alone.

More information about VACRO's reintegration support