User Voice's Gary Waller

Staff Q&A: Garry Waller, Engagement Team Member

Garry is on his second stint at User Voice, loves long distance running, and thinks the organisation is ‘beautiful’

Name: Garry Waller

Job title: Engagement team member

Role responsibilities:  I facilitate two Prison Councils and co-facilitate the Community Council which entails recruiting service users to join the Councils and then delivering training to Council members to ensure they are delivering the model as it should be.

I make sure that our Council members feel supported as well as presenting to Prison and CRC staff across the contracts that I work on to ensure that they feel included.

What attracted you to work at User Voice?
There are hundreds of organisations that maintain that they employ ex-offenders and yes lots do, there is no doubt, but my particular passion is for criminal justice provision and the idea that ex-offenders could work in this sector.

User Voice is 100% authentic when it makes this statement and can honestly say that the majority of frontline delivery staff, if not all of them, are ex-offenders – when you think about some of the consultations that User Voice undertakes, prisons (with keys), probation offices nationally, Houses of Parliament from time-to-time, the Ministry of Justice, for ex-offenders to be working in these settings how could I not want to be a part of it?

User Voice is beautiful and what’s more you get to see the marginalised groups that quite often feel stigmatised and worthless start to believe in themselves because there is a platform for them to not only talk to service providers and commissioners but to help and be a part of helping define how service provision is delivered… that right there, for me, money can’t buy; it is priceless.

Where were you before coming here?
Before coming to User Voice I was running a public house in north London – I did this for two years before realising that it wasn’t for me. I had too much life experience to be stuck in a pub.

What experience do you bring to your role?
I grew up without much stability and lots of dysfunction, therefore gravitated towards other children like myself. I become troubled and started taking drugs early on. I was put into care and left school and gravitated towards a life of drug-taking and criminality.

I spent a total of around eight years in prison and around 15 years trying to escape from my feelings taking drugs, predominately heroin and crack.

What frustrated me most was that the system was set up wrong completely. Service users were never consulted, I was never asked what I thought. I was led to believe that my life was basically over.

I have experience of social services, physical and emotional abuse at home, physical and emotional abuse in the care system, experience of being sectioned under the Mental Health act and being put into a secure psychiatric hospital , experience of YOIs and prison and a long history of mental ill health.

Which of the User Voice values of Authenticity, Resilience, Democratic, Order from Chaos and Optimistic best describes you?
For me it is all of them, because of the nature of what we do, in my view, you need all of these and I believe that they all describe me.

What have you learned at User Voice so far?
The biggest lesson I have learned at User Voice is that with the above values, change is not just possible but within your reach – more so if you believe in yourself.

I have also learned that, contrary to popular belief, the Ministry of Justice and criminal justice service providers want to hear from service users, which is integral in reducing reoffending.

I have also learnt that politically it is very difficult for us, there are lots of barriers that make it difficult for us.

What challenge are you looking forward to tackling at User Voice?
Changing public perceptions; it will always be a challenge but it is a challenge that I thrive on.

What’s the best bit about User Voice?
We are a family, we help each other, we support each other, we are all after the same thing – there is no self-interest and it’s a beautiful feeling.

Where did you grow up, what was that like?
I grew up in Birmingham on a council estate and as outlined earlier it was not a pretty upbringing. I was bullied outside of my home and at school and when at home was constantly scared.

What are your interests?
My family are my life; I adore them, they are my drug of choice and they motivate me to keep going. I also enjoy long-distance running and I love the outdoors. Nature and our surroundings are a beautiful thing close to my heart.

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