Australian Story: April 10

Tonight Australian Story follows the progress of drug rehabilitation residents in Perth’s Shalom House, from new arrivals getting their heads shaved to residents nearing the end of the year-long stay.

With Australia’s illicit drug use escalating – and ice at epidemic levels – this episode looks at a rehab for drug addicts that is producing surprising results.

Shalom House in Perth is a controversial drug rehabilitation centre that bills itself as the nation’s strictest.

Run by former ice addict and drug dealer, Peter Lyndon-James, new residents agree to go cold turkey off their drugs, stop smoking, get their heads shaved, disconnect from family, friends and phones, and go to church three times per week.

“I spent 26 years hating who I was and I wanted to change but didn’t know how to change. I’ve learnt how to change. I’ve pioneered the way,” he said.

Lyndon-James’s supporters include former WA Corrective Services Minister, Joe Francis.

“He’s come from being a prisoner and drug addict himself. If anyone can change the lives of very, very troubled men, it’s someone who’s been through the bottom of it themselves,” he said.

The program, which gets no government funding, is proving successful, turning seemingly intractable criminals and addicts into ‘geeks’ – upstanding, productive members of society.

Nathan, 26, who’s been at Shalom House for two months, began using drugs as a child. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve changed a lot. I’ve actually turned completely around and it’s good.”

For another Shalom House resident, Brian, it was a trauma that led him to become hooked on drugs.

“I started smoking meth at 22 after being in the Bali bombing,” he said. “I got post-traumatic stress disorder, after seeing a lot of death and destruction in the Sari Club.”

Shalom House founder Peter Lyndon-James was a big drug dealer in Western Australia and was in and out of jail on drugs and guns charges before he found God and Christianity in 2000.

He started Shalom House in 2012 to help former drug addicts restore their lives and has seen numbers grow from just a few residents to over 80 in just four years.

The rehabilitation centre now has 22 staff.

Peter Lyndon-James says residents must pay $300 a week to live at Shalom House and pay for their own rehabilitation, usually coming from their Centrelink payments.

“We help our fellows completely restore their finances, their relationships. We get everyone of our fellas off Centrelink within eight months,” he said.

However, Shalom House is not without its detractors, with one former resident Geoff, who dropped out after five weeks, saying it was ‘punitive’.

Monday 10 April, 8pm on ABC.

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