From Cambridge drug dealer to healer: How Shofiq Uddin got his life back on track
By his own admission, Shofiq Uddin has made some big mistakes in his life.
After becoming addicted to cocaine, he was driven to selling it to fund a £25,000-a-year habit and his chaotic life spiralled out of control, landing him in prison.
A dreadful motorbike accident then put him in hospital for three months and left him with a brain injury. The incident made him re-evaluate his life, only for temptation to get the better of him once more. He tried to take his life three times last year, before mental health services put him on the road to recovery.
Now, he has become a peer mentor, based out of The Edge Café in Cambridge’s Mill Road, where he helps others facing problems with drugs or alcohol to get the help they need to put their own lives back together.
“Since starting this job, it has changed my life,” Shofiq, 37, tells the Cambridge Independent. “It has saved me. It has saved me from leaving this Earth. In return, I want people to know my story about what I’ve been through. I’ve turned my life around – I’ve gone from drug dealing to drug healing.”
Born and raised in Cambridge to a Bengali family living in Darwin Drive, Cambridge, Shofiq set out on a road to self-destruction.
“I didn’t agree with the ideals my parents wanted me to live by. I went on my own path,” he says. “I got into drink and weed as a kid, then I got into cocaine at 21 and my problems really started. I was an addict.
“I made a lot of mistakes. I was self-medicating for a long time and thought drink and drugs would help me escape from my world.
“But it was stealing all my happiness and making me believe there was no future.
“I thought, the only thing that’s going to happen in my life is that I’m going to die young or I’ll go to jail. I didn’t expect anything else. I was slowly killing myself.”
Shofiq, who some will know by his middle name, Jamal, describes cocaine as his “vehicle of escape”.
“The drug is notable for causing euphoric feelings and I took it to make myself feel better,” he admits. “I started off doing it at the weekends, while working, and I went on to doing too much.
“I never put it down – I kept putting it in my nose. Then I quit my job.
“When I realised I couldn’t afford food, because I’d spent my money, I had to do something drastic. I decided to sell it and I made a lot of money to fund my habit for 13 years.”
Shofiq is frank about the extent of his drug dealing – but is keen to avoid glamorising a lifestyle that put him behind bars, and very nearly led him to an early grave.
“When I started with cocaine, I knew a lot of the circle and I did well. I was a loveable rogue. I sold it cheap and quick.
“From the age of 29 to 34, I was selling about £6,500 of cocaine a week. That’s £300,000 of drugs a year – over £1.5million over five years.
“I had a £25,000-a-year habit. I ran it like a business and spent it like a lifestyle. I also had a £10,000-a-year alcohol habit, which I spent in pubs. I’d spend £3,000-£5,000 on taxis, £3,000-£5,000 on takeaway food, £2,000-£3,000 taking out ladies. I was wasting £40,000-£50,000 a year,” he says.
Police caught up with him and in 2007 he was jailed for 30 months for intent to supply.
“I got caught, went to prison and did my time. I was an induction orderly – anyone who got off the van, I would give them an induction.”
Some proved to be familiar faces.
“There were 882 people in Peterborough prison and I knew at least 10 per cent,” he says.
Shofiq’s spell in prison did not prove to be a turning point. But a life-changing moment was to follow.
“Four and a bit years ago, the back tyre on my motorbike popped and I lost control. I went straight into a garden wall in Ely,” he recalls.
“I mustn’t have strapped my helmet on properly because when the ambulance arrived they found it was off my head. They put me in a coma to stop my body from swelling. I was in hospital for three months.
“While laying there in a hospital bed, I reconnected to my family – who I had left for 18 years – and I reconnected to my faith. I reconnected with who I am.”
But the accident left him with a significant brain injury.
“I’m still recovering,” he says. “I damaged the front part of my brain, which is responsible for executive functioning, like forward planning and organising. I damaged my left temporal lobe, which is responsible for short-term memory.
“That’s the one I still have problems with – if I don’t write things down, I won’t remember them.
“I might start cooking, look in the fridge and find there’s no milk left, and just go to the shops without remembering that I’m cooking.”
Shofiq was clean for four years after his accident.
“Then somebody was at my house and some cocaine fell out his pocket. I took it without telling him. It was a curse,” he says. “I ended up spending my life savings, which wasn’t a lot at the time.”
He ended up in trouble with the police once more, fined for possession of Class A drugs.
Shofiq had reached his lowest point.
“I decided what I’d done was wrong and I tried to commit suicide three times in the space of 10 days in October last year,” he says.
“Fulbourn Hospital intervened and helped me. I got therapy and went to the drink and drugs services. I did voluntary work.
“I thought to myself, now I have some sort of normality, I’ll apply for sales jobs, as that was what I was interested in.
“But I didn’t get anywhere because on paper I looked useless – I had a big gap. I hadn’t worked for 14 years.
“So I wrote a list of jobs that would want to hear about the problems in those years, like youth clubs, drug and alcohol services, intervention teams.
“I went in there for three months, and kept telling them what I’m doing with my recovery, my strategies and coping mechanisms. When they had an open day, four people got employed and I was one of them.”
Trained by Change Grow Live (CGL), the Cambridgeshire drug and alcohol service that works with The Edge Cafe, Shofiq acts as a peer mentor twice a week.
“I welcome, meet and greet and act as a signposting information service,” he says. “I’m helping people with a similar story to me – people with addictions, mental health problems.
“When they walk in, I introduce myself, talk to them about their story and let them know I’m one of them, who is still in recovery. I will then give guidance on who to talk to.
“We have our own workshops and therapy classes in-house, or they can register and be referred for services with CGL.”
He hopes his own experience can help others avoid a similar path.
Acknowledging that part of his own drive to sell drugs was to be “recognised”, he warns a dark, drug-fuelled sub-culture persists in parts of Cambridge, in which young people fail to integrate with the wider community.
“They live in their own world or bubble. Everyone wants to be a gangster or be recognised.
“The problem is people want to build up a big reputation and it’s all false,” he says. “I want to help as much as I can.”
There is a big demand for such services.
“I’ve just finished work and from 10am to 2pm I spoke to eight people who wanted to know what they can do,” he says.
He also volunteers as a youth worker in Darwin Drive, at the club he used to go to as a teenager.
“That is my way of trying to intervene, by saying to them, ‘Look what I did. Look how I messed up. Don’t do that’,” he explains.
“I attended Chesterton School and did my GCSEs but I didn’t do well, as I used it as a social club.”
His advice to young people trying to avoid a similar downward spiral is clear.
“Be honest with your family. Have a plan for what you want to do. Set yourself some goals so you can have a sense of achievement. If you have something you are trying to attain, you’ll concentrate on that,” he suggests.
Shofiq has also offered his services as an addiction liaison officer for the new mosque.
“I wasn’t a good Muslim, now I’m working with the mosque to help people with addictions,” he says.
Shofiq acknowledges he is still on the long road to recovery.
But as heads along it, he hopes to take others with him.
“There is a way out,” he says. “I want to be an inspiration.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley