Addiction started for me at a young age, after my mum was in a coma following a car accident. I started to experiment with gas at 11 or 12 years old and moved quickly onto marijuana. I was coming from a place of hurt and pain – feeling a lack of love and looking to fill that void. My dad was very supportive, trying to do the right thing and fighting for me every step of the way, but I was a loose cannon, young and confused. Things escalated quickly and I got involved in crime – getting arrested for car theft and burglaries. Then my addiction accelerated again and I was a heroin addict by the time I was 15 to 16 years old. I was always hanging around with older people and wanted to be part of a crew. Heroin really consumed me and I did some bad things that I am not proud of, including more crime – for which I received my first prison sentence, in Feltham, for two months. At sixteen, there had also been a murder attempt on my life, as I was so wild that people wanted me off the streets. I still bear the scar where they tried to cut my throat with a knife.
Heroin really consumed me and I did some bad things that I am not proud of
By 17, I was addicted to crack cocaine at the same time as heroin and I became wild – so much confusion came in. I would rob to feed my habit and secure my next hit. As I took on that lifestyle, people around me began to see a different person emerge. Heroin destroys your personality and makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do. I became vicious and violent toward other human beings. I burned bridges and ruined relationships. I wasn’t nice to be around. My mind became fragmented and I was dismantled. I was numb. I didn’t know what I was doing or what day of the week it was. My family tried to help, but I was too far gone.
Many prison sentences followed in the next few years and I spent over a decade of my life behind bars. I lived a life in and out of prison. I was often in solitary confinement, which further upset my mind and emotions. I was fighting, robbing drugs off people in prison, in confusion, always looking for the next hit. The drugs were destroying me. There were times when I was living this life that I wanted to kill myself. The addiction had me so tightly in its grasp. The system and people around me tried helping, but I would always chuck it back in their faces. During this period, when I was 31, there was another attempt on my life where someone I’d had a fight with when I was younger tried to cut my throat. It’s only when I look back now that I realise how lucky I was not to have lost my life.
I became vicious and violent toward other human beings. I burned bridges and ruined relationships. I wasn’t nice to be around
Around this time, I moved to Chatham to try and get a fresh start to make something of myself. I didn’t know many people there. I was homeless and on a variety of drugs – methadone, heroin, crack, Valium and Pregabalin. I was in a bad place. I didn’t know who I was or that I had any purpose. I was suffering and in a lot of pain. Me being me, I just kept pushing through the fear that was a constant part of my life: fear of authority and fear of the people I was robbing – the drug dealers. I was damaged goods and in a bad place when I got to Chatham and had thought again about taking my own life. It was here that I got involved with Caring Hands, who helped people claw their way out of difficult situations like mine and who provide over 250 meals a day to those in need. Here, people talked to me about the love of God and suggested I go to church on Sunday, which was not something I wanted to do. However, when I did go along to church, I experienced the love of God hitting me like a train – I then knew my life’s purpose was about helping others. Caring Hands and the church put me in a community with 40 other Christians and I started to discover who I was. I came off all drugs and even cigarettes straight away – except for methadone, which you have to come off gradually under medical advice and I was clean of after a year.
I experienced the love of God hitting me like a train – I then knew my life’s purpose was about helping others
I volunteered at Caring Hands for two years, where I looked after the gardens, which gave me a sense of purpose and something to do. I had a full life and ‘normal’ people around me. My family started to hear about the change in me and I experienced the ongoing presence of God in my life. People thought I wasn’t the same person, as – when I was on the drugs – I was previously so malicious. My character completely changed. I love people, am patient and see the potential in everyone.
After a while, I began praying for a wife to settle down with. I was already building my character again and wanted to have stability. God brought a wonderful woman into my life and I knew I was going to marry her when I first laid eyes on her in church – it was like one of those slow motion scenes in a film! We started chatting, shared our backgrounds and got to know each other – we got married 15 months later in front of 300 people! This was also a real eye-opener for my family, who were excited about the new me and who I should have been without all the complications. I have seen real healing in my life from my marriage and from reconnecting with my family.
My character completely changed. I love people, am patient and see the potential in everyone
I also discovered the company COOK, who send food to the Caring Hands charity to help them support others. When people come through the Caring Hands programme successfully, there is the chance they can get a job at COOK and I was the first person to do this. I had built myself up with two years of voluntary work and I felt ready to take on a proper job, even though I was cautious about possibly being judged because of what I had previously done and who I had been. I shouldn’t have worried because even though one of the people interviewing me was somebody whose jaw I had broken when I was in addiction, they all realised that I am a changed man and honoured my request to be given a second chance.
Whilst I was previously stagnant with no enthusiasm, the leadership excellency of COOK developed me into a real asset. I am part of the family there and they are used to a diverse culture, so grabbed hold of my ability and talent – bringing it out of me and helping me grow. I believe your environment is very important. A seed has the potential to be a tree, even an orchard, but if it is not in the right environment, it is nothing. Once in the right place, it can provide fruit to benefit others. There is good in everyone – they just need to discover it. It’s all about getting yourself in the right place, so people can see it in you.
There is good in everyone – they just need to discover it. It’s all about getting yourself in the right place, so people can see it in you
After being a Mix and Weigh Chef for four years at COOK, I was fortunate to meet Annie, who has been an excellent coach and mentor, discovering my business mentality. I now work with her on COOK’s Raw Talent Programme – helping train people with barriers to employment such as homelessness, drugs or a prison background. These are people who have had a difficult start in life and whom many companies would turn down. I know these people because they are walking in my footsteps. It is my job to recruit and train them – mentoring them for the first 16 weeks and helping them find their footing. I set weekly goals with them and work on a coaching model – asking questions to help them come up with solutions themselves. Annie and I go into prisons and do job fairs as part of our recruitment. I have had inmates falling into my arms, once they know my story, and telling me they need to change. I put the right bricks in front of them to help rebuild their lives. Even my former prison governor didn’t recognise me when I visited, because it’s been such a transformation!
I have had inmates falling into my arms, once they know my story, and telling me they need to change. I put the right bricks in front of them to help rebuild their lives
My life is really good now. I’ve been in business meetings on the twelfth floor of The Shard in London, I’ve been in Parliament and on the news. I’ve been working from home during the pandemic and received IT training at COOK to help me do this. It’s been hard because I was in prison for many years, so didn’t learn key skills, and the drugs damaged my brain too. I’ve had to discover how to do things in the 21st century, but I’ve pushed through and I’m enjoying my life – always trying to grow and learn. I’ve discovered the best way to do things is to talk honestly with God, others and yourself.