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Former bikie and prisoner finds redemption as role model

Giovanni Torre -

A former outlaw motorcycle gang member and convicted criminal has turned his life around,

spearheading a new program to help keep young Aboriginal people away from a life of crime

and addiction.

Josh Bolton was a talented football player with AFL aspirations and a skilled boxer, but methamphetamine and other drug use, stealing and violence saw his life spiral out of control from the age of 18.

He served prison time for violent crimes, including terrorising a drug dealer in a dispute over a Harley Davidson motorcycle taken as collateral for a drug debt.

Now 34, Mr Bolton, a proud Noongar man, is working with Perth rehabilitation centre, The Whitehaven Clinic, to help roll out a program he hopes will help wind back the number of Aboriginal youth and men engaging in a life of drug and alcohol addiction, crime and jail.

Based on Whitehaven's intensive Addiction Recovery Process Program, the new Aboriginal

Addiction Recovery Process Program offers "culturally appropriate, one-on-one counselling

and 'train-the-trainer' workshops" to address the root-cause issues of addiction and the

consequences of that behaviour.

Led by First Nations facilitators, the program will connect with young Aboriginal people in the

community, offer support and seek to secure community funding to help fund rehabilitation.

Mr Bolton said he despaired at the fallout of Banksia Hill Detention Centre and Casuarina

Prison's Unit 18, and hoped the Aboriginal Addiction Recovery Process Program would help

inspire troubled young people to become the best versions of themselves.

"My life was basically selling drugs, living at hotels in Perth and I partied like a rockstar.

Every night I was up, I was out, I was doing everything. I would go until my body crashed,"

he said.

"A lot of my issues came from my lifestyle and I always tried to push the blame onto others. I

didn't hold myself accountable for what I was doing. I always thought that was my path,

that's what was destined for me."

Mr Bolton said his engagement with Whitehaven while in jail had been life-changing and he now wanted to share his experience to help others. He has been clean and sober for six years.

"In jail, that's when the transformation started. That's when happiness started for me," he said.

"Through this program, I want to be able to work with Aboriginal youth and men who can't see the light.

"Growing up, I had the avenues available to me and chose not to use them, but a lot of kids don't have the same opportunities. A lot of them need a positive role model and some guidance.

"I hope this program will help them to see the value of who they really are within, and that I can help as a mentor and as someone to help them grow."

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in jail, with WA's imprisonment rates the highest in the country. In WA, there were 3902 persons per 100,000 adult male Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in jail in the June 2023 quarter, compared with the Australian average of 2470.

In addition, ABS data, released in September, shows that the rate of suicide deaths among First Nations people was 2.5-times higher than non-indigenous Australians in 2022, with First Nations males accounting for 75% of suicide deaths.

"In indigenous communities the suicide rates are very high. A lot of people are screaming out for help. They don't have the tools to be able to put their hand up and hold themselves accountable and say 'I need help'," Mr Bolton said.

"With the youth crime, a lot of kids have lost their way. They find it hard to see a future. So, being able to support them and teach them core values is something that I want to do.

"I have the lived experience to show young people that it is possible to redeem yourself no matter the choices you've made in life. I want young people to look at me and say: 'This guy's done everything. Look who he was, look who he is now. I can do it too'."

Whitehaven offers intensive one-on-one counselling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs through its private clinic in Perth, as well as prison-based programs in WA jails.

Whitehaven has provided private and jail-based rehabilitation, counselling and support in Perth for the past 10 years, including to more than 700 prisoners in WA jails, many who received programs pro bono.

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