INSPIRING RECOVERY: Bayside Transformations graduate turned program co-ordinator Ashley Bottrell.
INSPIRING RECOVERY: Bayside Transformations graduate turned program co-ordinator Ashley Bottrell. Contributed

"The first time I smoked it it dug its claws into me”

IT'S almost midnight in this suburban street when a car pulls up outside the home of a man who owes a drug debt.

Ashley Bottrell is high, sitting in the passenger seat, packing a gun, waiting.

This is how it's been for some time now.

Ever since he convinced himself poor school grades were somehow a reflection of his worth and he turned to his friends for approval.

A bond built on a shared love of rap music and wanting to create "a bad boy image" has led to a life of crime for these wayward mates.

Nights spent driving stolen cars, motorbikes, breaking into houses, always carrying guns.

Fast forward a decade and the now 30-year-old is determined not only to stay clean himself but inspire a generation to do the same.

The Bayside Transformations graduate-turned program co-ordinator is the guest speaker at the local rehabilitation centre's upcoming fund-raising gala.

In a refreshingly honest interview with the Chronicle, he reflected on the darkest time of his life when he was using hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of drugs per day.

He'd already been in jail once when a friend offered him crystal meth for the first time.

This was the start of a five-year battle with ice addition.

"It was crazy for years from there on... it was all about the crime and violence.

"The first time I smoked it it dug its claws into me," he said.

"The drugs were powerful and they were the guide of my life."

During this period Ashley was sent back to jail for attempted murder. His friend had shot someone.

"My first night in jail I was thinking I was going to get raped and killed," Ashley said

"I had to grow up fast, jail is a tough place.

"70 men who have chronic schizophrenia, drug addiction and had violence their whole lives, when you put all those men into a unit with two guards there are going to be some fireworks."

Jail was not the place to turn over a new leaf.

"All you do is talk about drugs and crime in there," he said.

"All the drugs are in jail."

For Ashley, the turning point came when he realised he was going to die or spend the rest of his life in and out of jail.

But that was only half the battle. The Transformations program would prove tougher than a maximum security cell.

"I hated the program... I thought it was a joke and I didn't know how it was going to work," he said

"Jail would have been easier.

"It (rehab) just seemed so petty and ridiculous when I was used to sorting things out with violence or escaping from it with drugs.

"Now I have the right tools and the right people around me I can do anything.

"I can get through anything and I will get though anything."

Ashley now works at the non-for-profit organisation full time.

"I get paid in satisfaction," he said

"I have done a lot of bad things, I have hurt a lot of people.

"When I get to give back to society and help build someone back up, give them hope and a future it is amazing."