Prison reform campaigner


Former prisoner and recovering addict

David Breakspear’s story

David Breakspear is a prison reform campaigner, writer, and trustee for the charity Starting Step. In 2015, David carried out an armed robbery, hoping to receive a lengthy sentence which would give him enough time to turn his life around.

Homeless and destitute at the time, and with a long history of offending, David was at real risk of receiving a life sentence. But even this was preferable to the future he saw ahead of him, without the comparative stability, shelter and opportunities for rehabilitation that prison could provide.

David was handed a sentence of three years and nine months for his crime, which he served at HMP Norwich. His attempt at rehabilitation got off to a rocky start after he initially got involved in drug smuggling at the prison. Explaining this, David days he fell back on prison survival strategies and behaviour learned during regular periods of incarceration across three decades. However, after these activities were discovered, David dedicated himself to education and self-improvement. He was released in 2017.

David believes the origins of his criminality and drug and alcohol addiction lie in an early childhood trauma: at eight years old, he was he was sexually abused by a local toyshop owner. As his behaviour worsened – he committed his first armed robbery in his early teens – David was placed first into a secure unit of a local children’s home, and was incarcerated at a detention centre when he was 15. Separated from his family, David found acceptance among his peers, who validated his criminal lifestyle. From then on, his constant offending, along with his increasing drug use, meant regular contact with the criminal justice system. David believes his frequent stints in prison, where he was able live a relatively successful life, led him to eventually becoming institutionalised.

David told his story to More Than My Past in August 2020. This film is an edited version of his interview.

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