San Patrignano is the most successful drug rehabilitation community in the world, with an impressive 72% success rate.
When I first walked through the gates of San Patrignano, I knew that I wanted to help in some way.
Having previously worked with the young people from Jamie Oliver’s charity restaurant, Fifteen, I could see that there were many cross overs in terms of the rehabilitation process at San Patrignano and the apprenticeship programme at Fifteen.
When Jamie set up Fifteen all those years ago, he believed that by investing in young people who may have lost their way, and giving them training, structure, and ultimately trust, then the results would be outstanding. He was right, and today we have trained many young people at Fifteen to become top class chefs.
Trust is also one of the most important aspects of community life for the 1,300 residents who currently reside at San Patrignano. Over a period of at least three years, residents begin by building trust with themselves, confronting the reasons why they took drugs in the first place.
They then slowly build trust with others within the community. Each resident is also given the chance to be trained or to learn a new skill - there are 52 to choose from. Being skilled in a trade helps prepare them for when they leave the community and start their lives again.
Since 1978, over 25,000 people from 28 countries around the world have finished the programme at San Patrignano completely free of their dependence on drugs. There is no magic potion for this, just a community free from religious, political or social discrimination. It’s also free of charge. Residents are not treated as patients, rather as people who need help to make positive changes in their life.
In 2013 San Patrignano followed 458 court trials and took care of 49 residents in house arrest, 123 people on probation and 17 residents on house detention. This resulted in four million euros being saved by the Italian State and 114 years of prison service being converted into recovery programmes. The community has also built a Minors Centre which hosts around 20 minors on probation. The environment and centre is designed to better respond to the specific needs and lives of the teenagers.
The Legal Office at San Patrignano assists its resident offenders during their trial and also after they are sentenced, to ensure that they receive proper advice (free of charge). They also liaise with offenders in prison who enquire about entering the community to take the recovery program rather then staying in detention.
I have spent the last five years volunteering for San Patrignano. I have no formal qualification in drug addiction or counseling but my learning has been first-hand on the job, both within the community and through working with the graduates and apprentices from Fifteen.
Through my life experiences and by learning from colleagues within the community, it is my belief that it is impossible to categorise addiction and to say that everyone who is dependent on drugs follows one type of behaviour. I believe that the solution to drug addiction should be a social one, not medical – which is the prevalent solution in the UK at present.
In 2012 I was asked by the community to set up the UK San Patrignano Association here in London.
Our aims are simple – we help people in the UK who are dependent on drugs to enter the community, and we also help residents who have finish the programme and want to move to the UK to work and start a life here. I now have 16 ex-residents all living and working in the UK; they now help me with the many enquiries from around the world from people wanting to enter San Patrignano.
It’s hard to sum up just how much San Patrignano does; I spend one week out of every month there learning more from the residents and creating opportunities for UK residents to be a part of this great story as well.
Many of the residents have become life-long friends including those who have entered the community to take part in the programme as an alternative to prison.
I cannot imagine my life without a close connection to this special place in Italy, and it is my dream that governments and decision-makers who work in drug rehabilitation from all over the world make this connection as well.
Finally I leave you with the words from one of the residents who is now at San Patrignano as an alternative to prison:
“Here in San Patrignano I found something I never experienced before: I started opening up, having a real dialogue with people, I discovered friendship. I learnt to face my problems – not to leave them behind – because they grow up like debts if you do not solve them. Happiness is not a complex and far away abstract thing.
Happiness is made up by small things. Going to bed at night and knowing that you have done your best. Stop craving for something outside yourself and looking for something you might not even want, and that for sure it will not satisfy you. Happiness is not having a Ferrari. Two hours after you bought it, you might want something else.”