Mark Rye, outside House of Fraser, Exeter

"The prison system is setting people up to fail"

I came up through the care system, so I was in and out of care from an early age. I don’t really have any family support but I’m a grown man now and I make my own destiny. My friends are my family. The Big Issue was life-changing for me. It started years ago – I came out of prison in 2004 and tried some courses to change my ways but it didn’t work out. I went back to the drugs scene and got kicked out of my accommodation. I thought straight away, I’ve got to do something. I didn’t want to be committing crime.

That was the first time I did The Big Issue. I’d finished my sentence, done my licence, come out of these programmes, but the support wasn’t really there. A couple of years later I’d been in and out of jail because I ended up leaving the Issue. This time around I came out of prison and I was straight back into the same hostel. I spoke to a friend who was doing The Big Issue and he said to me, “Don’t go back down that road of committing crime. If The Big Issue helped before then do it again.” And he was right, I’m happy.

My friend used to have this pitch. It really is a good one and there are a couple of people who said they’re going to look out for me. It’s a good earner too, we’ve got spenders here. There’s a certain minority that looks down on me, but my probation officer is really happy that I’m doing The Big Issue. In fact, she told me to make sure I stick with it because it keeps me busy and on the right track. She’s really supportive.

You try to change your ways yet you come out and you’re thrown straight back into the mix

There is a problem with a lack of support for people coming out of prison. I pleaded with them about resettlement and help with housing so I wouldn’t be back in the same circle. You try to change your ways yet you come out and you’re thrown straight back into the mix. Really it’s just setting people up to fail. The only thing that stopped me being on the street was a member of staff at the hostel who knew me and got me a space. There was a lot more support five or 10 years ago, they were stricter but now it’s just too relaxed and they don’t seem to care that much. There’s a lot more support from The Big Issue than from crime.

Now I just want to move on, get a little bedsit and take each day as it comes. I’d like to think I’ll get another job in the future but at the moment I’m trying to deal with my anxiety and depression and I’m happy to be doing something positive. I used to love fishing, it’s calming and relaxing and when I was in jail my mate said I should try to get back into it. But I’ve also got ulcers on my leg that get real sore. I have to get dressings done three times a week. There isn’t a job that’s like The Big Issue that lets me have the freedom to go to the doctors so often. Like I said, I don’t really have that support network. But I’ve got The Big Issue, the air in my lungs and that’s enough for me I guess.

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Andrew Butler

House of Fraser Exeter, High Street, Exeter, UK