I was born in Hastings on the south coast. I lived with my mother and my step-father who was not the easiest person to live with. I never knew my biological father. I also have three siblings.
Initially life seemed pretty good, I attended the local infant school and did really well. As far as I remember I was happy. When I progressed to junior school things started to go wrong. My step-father was quite a violent man and I was regularly smacked. I thought this was how anger or frustration should be expressed. As a consequence of this at school if I didn’t like someone or they upset me I would become violent and try to hurt them, teachers included.
This went on for quite a while and eventually I had to see a child psychologist who came to the conclusion that I was more advanced than my classmates and that is why I was getting bored and disruptive. They decided to put me up a year. I struggled with this advancement and continued to act out. I also started to play truant. Eventually the school decided that I was too disruptive and their only option was to expel me.
For the next six months I could pretty much do what I wanted. Both my parents worked. I hung around the streets and shoplifted – mainly sweets, pens and toys. I was about nine years old and I soon met some older boys who were playing truant from the senior school. These boys were about thirteen and they were into sniffing solvents and glue and smoking cigarettes. Because these boys were known to the local shopkeepers and I wasn’t, they would get me to steal pots of glue for them. Within hours there I was with a bag of glue in my hand, feeling great. I thought these boys were cool and I wanted to be just like them.
After six months of this my mother and step-father decided that they could no longer cope with me and I was placed onto a Voluntary Care Order and sent to a local Children’s Home.
I was still only nine years old and one of the youngest kids in the home. I was soon mixing with the older children and doing the things they did, including car theft and burglary. Because I was small I was often used to enter houses through small windows so I could open the door for the rest of them. I think I was doing this to ‘fit in’. I was never included in the sharing of the spoils.
It wasn’t long before I was attending court on a regular basis and eventually I was sent to a reform school in Kent where I was to stay for the next three years. I really liked it at this school because they took us rock-climbing, canoeing, skiing and all manner of other stuff which I would have never had the opportunity to do otherwise.
When I was twelve the school was closed due to the high levels of abuse the children were suffering. I was unaware of the sexual abuse but we were all punished physically on a fairly regular basis but because this was what I was used to at home I didn’t really think anything of it – I thought it was normal. I was returned home to my mothers and enrolled into the local senior school.
Around this time I smoked cannabis for the first time. I have to say that I took to it instantly and I soon developed a healthy appetite for the stuff. I continued to commit crimes to pay for the cannabis and all the other things a teenage boy thinks he needs. This eventually led to me being sent to Detention Centre. I was fifteen.
On the day of my release I went to a friend to buy some cannabis to celebrate getting out. Some other friends were there waiting to ‘score’, they told me that they were buying ‘gear’ which to me meant cannabis. It took me a while to realise that they actually meant heroin, and I thought ‘Why not?’
Yet again I found that I liked it instantly and I took it daily for some months before realising that I had a problem.
When I was seventeen my mother passed away after quite a lengthy battle with cancer and my heroin use really spiraled out of control. I ended up quitting my job and switched into full-blown ‘junkie’ mode. This inevitably led to me getting locked up again. Upon release my first thought was heroin and the cycle started again. I was to stay on this cycle for twenty-four years with my crimes becoming increasingly serious and my terms of imprisonment getting longer.
Eventually, I was given a life sentence for robbery with firearms and I finally decided that my life had to change. I did a bit of research on the wing in HMP Parkhurst to find the best drug program and was told about RAPt (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust). I was told that it would probably be the hardest thing I would ever do but if I was serious about sorting my life out I should apply.
I applied for the program and was moved to HMP Bullingdon. Initially I was dubious as to whether this would really help me but figured that I had nothing to lose by giving it my best shot. There were a few rocky moments but with the help of the counselors and especially the peer supporters I made it through and graduated. I was offered a peer supporter role and because of the knowledge I had acquired and my experience of undertaking the program, I accepted without hesitation. I really enjoyed being a peer supporter and the sense of fulfillment I got from helping others was something I had only achieved by taking drugs before.
Also whilst in HMP Bullingdon I was trained as a Toe by Toe mentor.
I achieved my “D-Cat” and progessed to an open prison. As soon as I arrived I was offered a peer supporter position by the CARATs (Counseling, Assessment, Referral, Advice, Throughcare) service. This was a voluntary position which I had to fit in alongside my usual work as an Education Administration Orderly. After about 16 months I was asked to become the full-time peer supporter which meant that I would now be paid and I could dedicate my time fully to the role. I never really looked at it as a job, it was great to be able to help my fellow prisoners and I took on the title of ‘Uncle Tone’ to many of them.
I was released in December 2012 and after an initial period where I had to reside in a probation hostel, I am now happy in my own flat. I have a full time job and most importantly I am continuing with my addiction recovery by sponsoring others in their 12 step journey and attending NA fellowship meetings. I have been totally abstinent from drugs for six years. This is due to RAPt, their support network, like minded fellows who I am proud to call my friends and undoubtedly the wonder that is the 12 step program.
Today, I am grateful for my life and I hope that I can help other offenders find serenity in their own lives like I have. This is why I have Co-Founded Second Chance Mentoring with Scott Woodage. As advocates of 12 step we both strongly believe that the program can help any offender break the cycle of criminal behaviour. It is not going to be easy but a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step….