Benito Graffagnino: Mental Health Activist, Prison Samaritan and Philanthropist

It is very easy to feel that hope is lost and there is nothing that can be done with a person who has been enticed by the darker sides of the street. Benito Graffagnino insists that the reverse is the case not only with his activism but also with his life. He was once a little boy who was a victim of the rotting system of things in foster homes and his neighbourhood. However, he insists that there is no one that cannot achieve rehabilitation and reorientation.

Benito Graffagnino is a British mental health and inmate activist, author, keynote speaker as well as entrepreneur. With his history as an ex-convict, drug dealer and drug smuggler, he is seen as a living encouragement to people who struggle with the darker sides of life. After several efforts made by different contributors to get his life back on track, he has managed to pave a new path of activism and philanthropy to help people see the light at the end of the tunnel.

He is known to contribute consistently to debates and podcasts on topics such as criminal rehabilitation, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health care, treatments of inmates, and proper care of people in foster homes. He has also authored two non-profit books based on drug and alcohol addiction, crime, and punishment with references to his personal life experiences.

Benito Graffagnino, now 29 years of age, was born on the 20th of February, 1993 in Bristol, England. He grew up in the foster care system and had to change foster homes due to his wayward lifestyle. Given the horrors he experienced as a child in several foster homes, he became absorbed into the reckless life of the street. He lived a life of drug abuse and made a living through the sales of ecstasy and prescription drugs. Life finally caught up with him when he was tried and convicted. He served his term of 3 years at several jails for different drug offences. During his time at HM Prison Guys Marsh, he saw the influence of legal drugs like spice in inmates. He stated in an interview that:

“Personally, I only ever smoked Spice once, which was a complete mistake. The drug is so powerful and dangerous that sometimes your so-called friends would give you the drug and think it was hilarious when the side effects kicked in.”

His personal experiences in prison and what he saw in other inmates are what have built him into an ardent advocate against drug abuse and helped him to champion the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

His term at the prison was extended by six months when he attempted to cause Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) on a prison official at Portland Prison. He served his term in more than seven jails and was mostly in solitary confinement. During his term in jail, he was accepted into a Youth Offender’s rehabilitation Program. This indicated a new path of life for Graffagnino and he followed it dutifully. This is one of the fuels for his passion as an activist for criminal rehabilitation. He also completed 4 GCSEs and other courses.

Recording massive progress going on, Graffagnino decided to change his narrative and build a career tailored towards helping other people who are experiencing what he has experienced and dedicated himself to it. His career path is defined by his work as a prison Samaritan, mental health advisor, activist in prison, and his entrepreneurial endeavours. During his time in jail, he volunteered to work as a prison listener, Samaritan and certified mental health advisor. This is part of a scheme that was developed to assist suicidal inmates on behalf of prison Samaritans who are not always available at the prison. After his time in jail is over, Graffagnino still assists as a prison Samaritan to assist those who would need help.

As a prison listener, he makes himself useful by assisting other inmates in overcoming their problems be it drug addiction, suicidal tendencies, mental health problems and many more. This is where he started honing his skills as a Prison Samaritan and built himself to become a better mental health advisor and activist.

After his time in jail was done, Graffagnino successfully completed a year of alcohol and drug recovery. In addition to this, he assists ex-convicts in getting cures for alcohol and drug addiction as well as reintegrating them into society. He is recognized by local MPs because of his work with ex-offenders, drug addicts and the homeless.

Furthering his reach, he made his impact known when he successfully petitioned for a homeless residence called Long Hills Hostel located in Bristol to be closed down. The hostel was experiencing uncontrollable alcohol abuse, drug abuse and violence without the staff hostel taking proper procedures. An incidence that stands out was of a 27-year-old man who had complained of being suicidal and succeeded in taking his own life because the staff failed to do the needful by checking on him per their duty even after such a request by his father. Graffagnino stated in his official petition that:

“Staff are turning a blind eye to drug use on the property and there have been numerous incidents and arrests of residents for assaults on other residents, and arrests involving making threats with knives, domestic abuse, assaults, possession of Class A drugs, criminal damage, anti-social behaviour, you can check the crime map for the BS57TZ area and contribute 90% or more being at this hostel, and crime in the area seems to be ridiculously higher than the average in Bristol, especially around violent crime and anti-social behaviour and drugs.”

Upon his official petition, inspectors made an official visit to the hostel and gave a 60 days ultimatum to improve the situation or the hostel would be closed down.

More so, Graffagnino is an entrepreneur who majors in tourism-related businesses. Upon his moving to Peru where he lives currently, he has established his businesses and even donates part of his business’ profits to Peru’s less privileged areas.

In tandem with his philanthropic aims, in September 2021, Graffagnino launched a program themed “Fight for the Pueblo”. Slums in Peru are popularly referred to as ‘Lima’s slums’ or pueblos jovenes meaning young towns, or slum districts. These slums do not get adequate help from the government and basically provide for themselves. With this initiative, Graffagnino is able to provide food, support services, and drug rehabilitation, to the underprivileged parts of Peru.

In his plan for 2022, he plans to set up a “Casa de Comedor” which would serve as a free restaurant for people in the poor rears of Peru through his charity fundraising. He presently resides in Peru where he has set up different businesses and continues to promote inmates’ rehabilitation and render philanthropic services.

Conclusively, Graffagnino’s life so far is a testimony of transformation that can be experienced if the proper paths towards self-recovery are tenaciously followed. With reorientation and assistance by private individuals like Benito Graffagnino, non-governmental organizations and the government, a lot of changes can be made.