Grandfather

Senior Support Worker

Ex-offender and Recovering Addict

John’s story

I had violence inflicted on me from as far back as I can remember. My mother used to beat me with anything she had to hand: brooms, sticks, even curtain poles. She was a heavy drinker and I used to dread weekends because that’s when she would drink and lash at me the most. I grew up the youngest of four siblings, and for some reason, I was the one who was brutalised. There were moments of tenderness, but it was confusing: my mum would beat me one minute and cuddle and kiss me the next. There was one instance where I was given some toys, and then taken to the children’s home and made to give them all away. I was beaten the moment we got home.

My father was in the military and used to work away a lot so he didn’t have a clue. Nobody did. I didn’t open up about what happened until much later in life. At the time, I just let it build up until I found another kind of outlet.

By the age of 13, I’d graduated from solvent abuse to drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis – that’s where the addiction really began to take hold.

My first experience of taking drugs was when I was ten years old, when I started sniffing gas and glue. I was inhaling up to twelve cans of solvent a day. By the age of 13, I’d graduated from solvent abuse to drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis – that’s where the addiction really began to take hold. I was committing crimes throughout this time and, whereas initially I’d gotten away with most stuff, at the age of 14 things started to catch up with me. On one occasion, after stealing my teacher’s handbag from the classroom, I was convicted of theft, arrested, and excluded from school. I was sent to a remedial centre but ended up getting excluded again, this time for fighting. By this point, I was using drugs and alcohol daily. As a last resort, one teacher agreed to give me one-to-one tutoring at her house, but one day I stole her moped, and while I was never convicted, the teaching stopped.

I didn’t know how to rob a car until I went to a detention centre – it was a college of crime.

I was an alcoholic by the time I was 16. I would regularly suffer alcohol withdrawal seizures and wake up shaking and vomiting in the night. I did have a period of forced abstinence after I was convicted of burglary and given four months in a “short, sharp, shock” detention centre, and I responded well to the discipline. However, I also met some kids there who were a bad influence. I didn’t know how to rob a car until I went to a detention centre – it was a college of crime.

When I was 18, after a string of quite serious charges, I was convicted for dangerous driving and two cases of actual bodily harm (ABH), which landed me a 3.5 year youth custodial sentence. I was older then, and I’d made the decision that I wasn’t going to let anyone intimidate or bully me – particularly staff. I’ve met plenty of prison officers in my time who have abused their authority, and back then I would just attack them. I have a strong pain threshold – I have the beatings to thank for that – so I didn’t care about the repercussions. So because of my behaviour, I served every single day of that sentence.

When I got out, aged 21, I went straight into committing armed robberies. I was hooked on all sorts of drugs: cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, diazepam. Needless to say, such sustained drug use had taken its toll, and I ended up being detained in secure units for drug-induced psychosis.

While inside, I was introduced to heroin, and it was not long before I became a dependent heroin addict.

But the criminal activity didn’t stop. I didn’t know any other way. Everyone I knew took drugs, drank and committed crimes. That was the world I lived in. So in 1992, aged 24, I was convicted again, and this time given a 15 year sentence. While inside, I was introduced to heroin, and it was not long before I became a dependent heroin addict.

After serving six years of my sentence, I was transferred to the high security psychiatric hospital, Broadmoor, due to aggressive behaviour. It was there that I was diagnosed with Psychopathic Personality Disorder. I knew I wasn’t a psychopath: I’d met psychopaths, I’d associated with psychopaths; I knew I wasn’t one of them because I could empathise with others. Even when I was a crackhead, I was the sort of person who would walk into a crack house and share my drugs and look after people who were at risk of overdosing. I’m like that today: I’m well known for being a loving, caring guy. I knew I had that within myself, even back then, but I needed to prove it.

But when I was eventually released in 2003, with no support around me, I fell straight back into using drugs and alcohol.

The turning point only came for me a year later, after I was arrested once more. When the police went to tell my mum, she suffered a heart attack. Mercifully, it didn’t kill her, but that was the wakeup call I needed to get clean. Once my mum had recovered, I opened up to her about how incarceration hadn’t been good for me and how much I needed help. I think that was the first time I’d ever admitted it, even to myself. Together we contacted social services and they agreed to send me to a residential treatment centre for addiction. However, I had twelve assessments at various treatment centres across the country and was refused admission at every one of them because of my past.

That was the best birthday present I’ve ever had: someone who was willing to give me a second chance.

On my 38th birthday, after a four hour assessment with the head nurse and a psychiatrist at Broadway Lodge in Somerset, I was finally accepted for treatment. That was the best birthday present I’ve ever had: someone who was willing to give me a second chance.

Once I’d completed my initial eight months of addiction treatment there, I moved into a dry house and engaged with Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). I spent the same year volunteering at Broadway Lodge, and was eventually given a full time role – I’ve been working there now for over ten years, and I’ve been clean for the duration.

In that time, I’ve re-kindled my relationship with my daughter, who was born while I was in prison, and she has blessed me with a granddaughter. I’ve passed my driving test and bought a 4-bedroom house in a beautiful part of the country. I’ve made peace with many of the people I hurt in the past – including the teacher whose moped I stole! And I made amends to a girlfriend from my past, who is now my wife.

While I’m not proud of some of my past, I’m proud of myself now for becoming a responsible, productive member of society.

While I’m not proud of some of my past, I’m proud of myself now for becoming a responsible, productive member of society. One of the most gratifying moments in my recovery was completing my basic Level 1 qualifications in Maths and English. Because of my experience in school, this was the first formal education I’d ever really received. I went on to study both subjects at GCSE level and even completed a Counselling Diploma and Advanced Health and Social Care Level 3 Diploma course. Shortly after that, I won an ‘Achieving Above All Odds’ award at Weston College’s annual Excellence in Business Training Awards, followed by an award for my community work with Broadway Lodge, where I was voted as being in the top three staff by my colleagues.

I was once the fifth most wanted man in the UK, and I’m now delivering the closing shares at NA conferences in front of thousands. The fact that I’ve come this far and I’m no longer causing harm to myself and others feels like a miracle sometimes, and I couldn’t have done it without the excellent help, love and support of staff and peers at Broadway Lodge.

Very sadly, I’ve lost most of my immediate family. My mum passed away in 2017, my dad passed away in 2019, and my older brother died from a drug overdose in 1997. Most other people I know from my previous life are either dead or still in jail. But I’ve remained strong in my recovery.

If someone you’re close to needs help with an addiction problem, support them as much as you can to engage with drug and alcohol agencies. By the time I came to ask for help, I wasn’t on the script, I didn’t know anything about methadone, suboxone and so on. I had used illicit drugs and alcohol for over 27 years and was resigned to the belief that I’d die from a bullet, a blade or an institution. It was not until I reached out, that I saw there was another way.

Most importantly, show them love. I try to love anyone I interact with until they can at least like themselves. If someone doesn’t like themselves, there’s no way they’ll care about anyone else. God rest my mother, for all that we’d been through, she never stopped loving me and when the time came for me to step up and be a man and son I was there, and I continued to be there until she took her final breath.

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