FOR 20 years heroin ruled Richard Zanone’s life, until one day he turned his back on his old life and began to look to the future.

For most of his adult life, an all-consuming addiction to Class A drugs had left him a mess. He had countless prison sentences, several court orders and broken family relationships.

He had no interest in trying to kick the habit because, as he says bluntly: “I wasn’t paying much attention – drugs cloud your mind.”

However, it was during his last stint in prison that 38-year-old Richard finally decided to face up to his problems and turn his life around.

The choice was stark: He could carry on the same self destructive path, with its daily routine of thieving and drug taking to kill the craving, before repeating it all the next day, or he could try to quit drugs for good.

He chose the latter and his determination has meant he succeeded.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis have now been replaced with decreasing doses of Subutex – a drug which makes you very ill if you try to take illegal drugs with it.

He has also taken up running and is now planning runs to raise cash for local good causes.

He is justifiably proud of his achievement and proof to others that it can be done.

He said: “I’ve been clean for a long period now, and haven’t offended for the longest time I’ve ever achieved.

“I never thought I would be where I am now. I feel proud of myself and I never felt proud before.”

Richard, from Shoebury, hasn’t touched drugs since 2010 and is now stable on a low dose of Subutex, which his offender manager, Tony Jones, says is a major achievement for him.

Tony, who works for Essex Probation, said: “Probation staff pile in the work when they see this chink in the armour.

“If you meet someone who is really resistant, doesn’t comply with court orders, ignores police attention and gets themselves back into prison despite everyone’s efforts, that’s their decision.

“But when they reach that point of thinking of changing, we’re in there.

“It takes a lot to confront a drug habit like Richard’s and it says a lot for the work he has put in to get this far.

“When you do start to kick the habit, there is a big gap in your life – daily. He needed as much support as he could get.”

Essex Probation helps ex-offenders get back on their feet by offering a range of support.

Staff prepare assessments for court, tailor-made supervision plans, as well as making sure they have a roof over their heads and food to eat.

These are the first steps to getting them back into work. Once an offender’s confidence begins to grow, they start voluntary work with a view to finding permanent employment.

Richard now hopes to pay something back to the community by taking part in a 10k run for charity.

Sponsorship money is being collected by the probation service, which is supporting him.

Richard has chosen the Little Stars Day Nursery, in Chancellor Road, Southend, to benefit from the cash, and all the money raised will go towards their Beach School, which they are setting up in the new term.

He said: “I wanted to do something good, and I wanted to give something to community. I started running, then I thought I would do a run and give the money to charity.”

Richard has no plans of stopping after his 10k challenge. He added: “I am looking forward to doing more. I’ve found something I am good at. I am doing a lot of training.

“Why stop at 10k? I could progress and go on to do half marathons and the London Marathon to continue raising money.”