“Incarceration and love aren’t meant to exist together, but we used Instagram to try to work out our way through it.”
Warning: Contains images of drug paraphernalia
Lisa and Elliot’s story is a romance with a difference.
Elliot Murawski is just two weeks out of prison after serving more than two years for supplying Class A drugs, and is a recovering cocaine and heroin addict.
The 28-year-old’s girlfriend, Lisa Selby, has been supporting him, while also sharing their struggles through social media.
The couple, from Nottingham, met through Alcoholics Anonymous in 2015, when Elliot was receiving help from Narcotics Anonymous as a recovering heroin addict.
But he soon relapsed, keeping it secret from Lisa for three months. Eventually he confessed.
“When you are watching someone you love injecting themselves and destroying their life, it’s not a peaceful place,” she said.
Lisa started taking images and videos in order to understand her partner’s addiction so she could help him “detox”.
However, he soon found himself owing money to a criminal gang, and agreed to deal drugs for them to pay off his debts.
The gang was caught and he was jailed.
At this point Lisa created the Instagram account @bluebaglife to post the photos she had taken and also document her partner’s struggle to adapt to life in prison.
Elliot himself did not have access to Instagram and had no idea how people would react.
“I would contribute by writing letters, or via phone calls, unaware of how it was being perceived,” he said.
“It was powerful and I did find it therapeutic. The process of writing encouraged me to open up about the reality of my life.
“It’s not an exhibition. It’s the completely real experiences of a former heroin addict.”
Lisa also used the account to reflect on the life of her mother, herself a heroin addict, who had recently died of cancer.
The Instagram page was initially only shown to friends but now has more than 9,000 followers.
It is kept private, to protect people from images of drug taking, but shared with people affected by addiction or similar experiences.
“I don’t know how this network has grown so big,” said 41-year-old Lisa, who is an art lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. “But it is through being honest and open, and not caring if we look the worst we can possibly look.
“Then people celebrate the joys with us even more when they come along.”
Lisa also posted about keeping herself busy while Elliot was in prison, and shared her excitement at the prospect of him being out on day release.
On those days, they uploaded photos of themselves together, holding hands and embracing.
“People said to me ‘you can do better than him, you should leave him’.
“But Elliot is an amazing human being and, when he is clean, I can see all of it.”
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Their posts have received comments from followers all over the world, many of whom share their own stories of addiction.
Lisa has now started working as a volunteer in prisons, where she helps encourage inmates to write about their experiences.
Elliot says he has now been clean for nearly two years and he credits the Instagram account for setting him on the road to recovery.
“It’s opened up the discussions for supporters of people in prison and people’s addictions,” he said.
“We have had people come forward and say ‘this is how we used to think about people like you, but thanks to your writing we’ve changed how we think’.
“And through this process, and because of Lisa’s support, I am a better human.”
Details of organisations offering information and support with addiction are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 08000 155 947.
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