RICHARD had been in and out of jail on stretches of five or six months for most of his adult life until a judge gave him an ultimatum.
The last time he appeared in Parramatta Drug Court, Richard was told to rehabilitate or spend a decade behind bars.
"I'd been doing drugs since early . . . since I was young, man," he said.
The Attorney General's office referred Richard, who did not want his surname printed, to Chain Breakers in Telopea.
Chain Breakers is a social enterprise that tries to rehabilitate ex-prisoners by providing them with a stable place to learn literacy and employment skills.
Under the guidance of drug and alcohol worker Paul Leary and outreach TAFE teachers, Richard has learnt to work with timber.
"It's taken my mind off the streets," he said. "It's opened my eyes to different work.
"To turn something old into something new makes you feel good."
Richard said he hadn't been back to court and had only used drugs a few times since getting involved with Chain Breakers.
The program has operated on donations and good will, out of a small shed provided by Community Services, since its funding was cut in 2010.
For two half-days a week, two TAFE trade teachers have been employed to teach skills to the ex-prisoners.
Without the qualified teacher, insurance will not cover the program.
But as of November the state government will cut the money used by TAFE to provide outreach teachers to programs like Chain Breakers.
Mr Leary, a social worker and the program's organiser, said he did not know if Chain Breakers would survive after next month.
Parramatta MP Geoff Lee said the cuts to education had been a tough decision for his government to make.