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  • Garion Thane

Legends of the Nepean – David and Robin Pullen

COMPASSION is complicated. It’s not strictly an emotion, its behaviour. And compassionate behaviour is multiple acts of kindness and understanding towards others. With this in mind, I have no doubts in my mind that David and Robin Pullen are compassionate people. As Salvation Army officers, they have devoted most of their lives to helping the less fortunate. Robin has run a program for homeless individuals in the city named ‘Street Level,’ working with the marginalised on the street, and David is currently overlooking the Salvation Army’s response to drugs and alcohol, having set up ‘Pathways,’ a methadone cessation program supported by the NSW government, back home in the Nepean. Together, they have helped countless former addicts overcome drug addiction and regain their dignity, which David stresses as an important facet of recovery.

I met with David Pullen in person in St Marys this week to have a chat over lunch about him and his wife’s nomination as legends. He was open to talk about recovery, agreeing that drug and alcohol abuse isn’t talked about as much as he thinks it could be, and we had a discussion about forgiveness, spirituality and dignity – recovering the person behind the addict. David and Robin Pullen are great members of the Nepean community and very deserving of the title ‘legends.’

The Salvation Army recently brought David and Robin back to Penrith, however the Nepean has always been their first home. Following in the steps of David’s parents who were also Salvos, they sold their home in Emu Plains in 1988 and went through the Salvo training college in Penrith.

“The Salvation Army is who I am, a part of my identity with my wife,” said Mr Pullen.

Decades of service and appointments to multiple locales, including Bateman’s Bay and Canberra led to involvement in the Drug/Alcohol response area of the Salvation Army. The Pullens have been involved with the Drug/Alcohol segment for the past decade, with David now responsible for the Salvation Army’s response to Drugs and Alcohol in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

‘Pathways’ in Penrith is the result of this role, and the Salvation Army launched it with the help of the state government, opened by Stuart Ayres.

“’Pathways’ is about long-term methadone, helping [addicts] to stabilise, and completely cease where appropriate,” said Mr Pullen.

“We have to work holistically with the Nepean Community to respond to the impact of drugs.”

Mr Pullen noted that ice is still a facet of the problem, but identified other drugs that are a bigger difficulty than the general public is aware of.

“Alcohol impacts more than a lot of people think too… but what is really problematic is heroin. It is making a resurgence after its popularity in 80’s and 90’s,” said Mr Pullen.

When asked about the logistics on treating people on drugs that addictive, Mr Pullen was proud to say the treatment consistently works.

“Statistically speaking, the outcomes for the pathways program are as good as or usually better than the international averages,” he said.

“Treatment for people on ice is incredibly effective – people have a better recovery rate from drugs than is commonly thought.”

The conversation then turned towards how the Pullens deal with addicts. The humanity from ‘Pathways’ really began to show after Mr Pullen began talking about connections. Mr Pullen is very passionate about restoring dignity and connecting with people effected by drugs, having written a paper for a journal on the topic with Prof. David Best.

“You never give up – never give up on someone seeking recovery,” said Mr Pullen.

“Everyone deserves a shot at redemption. It is often a series of mistakes… every addict is someone’s son or daughter, maybe mum or dad.”

I asked Mr Pullen if it’s hard to keep an optimistic outlook after a decade in the sector.

“I don’t [find it hard],” said Mr Pullen.

“If people can accept a person as an equal, see them as a person and not the addict, their chance of redemption is enhanced,” he continued.

“When you can restore a person’s dignity, you get back to the person.”

At this point, Mr Pullen referenced the parable of the prodigal son, and we discussed the humanity in reformation.

“In the story, if the son thought he would get the same response from his father that he did from his brother, after working in the pig farm, he wouldn’t have gone back.

“The father put the ring back on his son’s finger, showing him acceptance, before he even asked him to bathe.”

Mr Pullen said that connecting with the person is part of what he, his wife and the Salvation Army do. He said that he is heartened when people come up to him or his wife and say they helped them recover.

Turning back to the Nepean before we parted ways, Mr Pullen mentioned the Red Shield Appeal and asked the community to support their work in the community.

“For every $1 raised in the Nepean during the appeal, more than $2 goes back to the Nepean,” he said.

“The Nepean is well served.”

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