When 14-year-old Jai talks about horses, his face lights up.
“When I’m with them, just standing with them, I feel different, happier,” he says.
“They’re really nice, lovely looking. And when I’m on them, I’m excited, my heart’s beating real fast. Like nervous but excited at the same time.”
It’s a different kind of high for the Year 9 student, who was using ice, stealing and “running amok” in Darwin before he enrolled himself in the BushMob rehabilitation program in Alice Springs a month ago.
The 20-bed facility for youth aged 12-25 takes young people with addiction problems from all over the NT in a 16-week program that includes indigenous equine therapy and bush trips to give the patients a taste for healthy living and making better life choices.
“Most of the kids we get are from communities where there’s been a spike in sniffing, alcohol use, ganja, now ice; ice has crept into the communities,” says program manager Melissa Nichols.
“They’re mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, there’s been a breakdown in families; they haven’t had a lot of schooling.”
She says almost all of the kids BushMob treats have been through the criminal justice system.
“The way a lot of young people who come through a service like this are looked at, I think it’s a shame people don’t see the bigger picture,” Ms Nichols says.
“These are beautiful young people that come through here, and I’ve met some of the most amazing, incredible kids with bright futures. We need to do more to support them when they leave, and that’s where the fall-down is: they go home to the same circumstances.”
Iasha, 14, has been to BushMob twice before to escape ice in her hometown of Katherine.
“I realised it’s not good for you, and I don’t want to do it anymore; being back home, it’s really hard because all my friends do it and I just can’t stay away from it when I’m there,” she said.
“I feel healthy when I’m here, I feel safe … Every day you do something new instead of sitting around getting high with your friends.”
She says the program has helped her learn to communicate better, and has improved her relationship with her family.
“The first time I came here and I went home I improved so much: my attitude, the way I was towards my brothers and sisters; before, I wasn’t able to do that,” she said.
“But when I went back for a week I sat down with my mum, had good conversations. My little sisters never liked me and then all of a sudden they just loved me, they wanted me to be around, they didn’t want me to go.”
Ms Nichols said that although most of the young people who go to BushMob have alcohol problems, ice is on the rise in communities.
“Ice is going to be massive, it’s going to be absolutely devastating,” she said.
“You’ve got young, vulnerable kids that don’t have anything on their agenda but boredom and they don’t have any self-esteem, those kids, so it’s going to get really hard.”
She says the centre is hearing more from remote communities that the marijuana young people are smoking has been laced with ice.
For children aged 11 or 12 that poses an even greater risk.
“It’s the immediate addiction and the damage it does so quickly,” Ms Nichols says.
“The longer you’re on it, the less choice you’re going to have to get off it.”
For Iasha and Jai, now in recovery, the future looks promising: both want to finish their schooling and find work.
Iasha has aspirations of becoming a model, or working in Katherine to support her mother.
When Jai finishes the program, he said his family has offered him a traineeship in Darwin working as a youth wildlife ranger between the NT and Western Australia.
Ms Nichols said success was difficult to measure.
“Its always little things, that’s success,” she said.
“Success is when a young person turns around and says thank you… (when they) feel they’ve been appreciated for that small token, that builds a lot of esteem inside a young person.”