My story starts with a childhood of abuse right from an early age. My foster parents physically, sexually and emotionally abused me and the five other foster children they ‘cared’ for from as far back as I can remember. They would neglect us, buying us old clothing from car-boot sales. As a result, things were tough at school because of the way we looked, dressed and smelled. It was a really awful childhood.
This abuse went on until I ran away at the age of 14 and was placed with a second foster home in Plymouth. Although my second foster family cared for me, a lot of the damage had already been done and I was still trying to deal with the anger I had surrounding the abuse I suffered.
My way of dealing with all this anger was to go out and get drunk.
When I was sober I could control myself, but as soon as I had a drink my anger spiralled out of control and released itself in a string of violent offences. I only knew how to deal with problems the way my foster parents had taught me – through violence. Later on in life, when facing my second prison sentence, I was diagnosed with alcohol dependency syndrome, which explained a lot of my actions at this time.
I was convicted of two counts of robbery and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
After I left care, I was sent to live in a flat on my own at the age of 17. I was still trying to do my A’ Levels whilst managing and paying for a flat on only £20 a week: it was impossible. As well as being stressful, living alone also gave me more time to focus on the issue of my abuse. That was when my offending, fuelled by alcohol, really started to take off.
My first serious conviction happened nine months after I moved into the flat on my own. I was convicted of two counts of robbery and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Around this time, I was also struggling with the breakdown of my relationship with my birth mother, who I had met for the first time two years earlier. It contributed to my behaviour at a really confusing time.
After I was released, I moved back home to live with my foster parents until I was able to move into a flat. But once I’d moved out and paid for rent and bills each month, I was left with very little money, which made things extremely difficult.
During this time, a lot of my friends had started to get arrested for serious offences, and I didn’t want to get involved in the same sorts of trouble. Determined to have a better life and believing I was just in with the wrong crowd, I decided to pack up and move from Plymouth to Manchester.
With no job, no money and nowhere to live, I didn’t expect to be in there for long. But I wanted to make a new life for myself, so I sold the furniture from my flat and moved to Manchester.
Moving away from my friendship group back home should have meant that I didn’t get into any more trouble, but it didn’t. Nine months later, I committed another serious offence whilst out drinking and this time was sentence for three years.
I started to think, “why am I still doing this? If it’s not my friends that are the problem – it’s me, and I need to do something about it.”
I realised I needed to speak about the abuse I suffered, but I had never had anyone to talk to.
During my second sentencing, I experienced a moment that started the process of turning my life around: a barrister asked me why on earth I, as an intelligent young man, was behaving this way and what had happened to me. So I told my story.
The barrister understood clearly this was what caused my anger – something I couldn’t see for myself before as I was so caught up in my rage. The barrister told me my behaviour shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I was bound to be angry, but that my actions weren’t the right way of dealing with it.
After I was sentenced, I started one-to-one therapy once a week in prison for 15 months. I realised I needed to speak about the abuse I suffered, but I had never had anyone to talk to. When I was released, I was determined to turn things around. I wanted a better life for myself but I didn’t expect anyone to just hand it to me.
I went out into the world and tried to make something of myself, starting right from ground zero. I was fortunate to find an employer who saw something in me and gave me a chance working as production operative at a lighting manufacturers, earning £3.25 an hour. With a lot of dedication, I worked up from there, developing a successful career in sales.
After this, I secured a role as a resettlement worker with the Salford Prison project, working with ex-offenders by helping them to find some stability outside of prison. Often, this involved securing accommodation and employment. As an ex-offender myself, I knew how important employment and building a career is to living a life free of crime, so would try my best to find my clients work to ensure they wouldn’t end up re-offending. Later, I began working for Groundwork as a Talent Match Employment Coach working with 18-24 year old young offenders.
I pitched my idea of opening a pasty shop selling pasties made by ex-offenders to Groundwork.
Whilst working for Groundwork, I had the idea of setting up a pasty company. I came about when, after moving from Plymouth to Manchester, I was unable to find a decent pasty anywhere. I started to make my own, and in 2012, I made a big batch for a street party to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee. I had neighbours coming and knocking on my door for days afterwards asking for more pasties.
Paired with my knowledge of prison leavers and their difficulties in finding employment after release, and inspired by the success of Bad Boys Bakery, I pitched my idea of opening a pasty shop selling pasties made by ex-offenders to Groundwork. The aim was to provide a transitional phase in employment for people coming out of prison
Groundwork liked my idea, and we put together a business plan to pilot what would become HMPasties. Since July 2017, HMPasties has been a successful social bakery that gives ex-offenders a second chance by helping them receive training and peer mentoring whilst employed and earning a living wage. This cause is so important to me as I know what it’s like because I’ve been there.
I’ve done the hard work on myself and can now support others on their own journeys away from crime through employment. Since we started in 2017, HMPasties has won a Silver Award at The British Pie award, The Young British Foodie award, The National Lottery People’s Project and Social Enterprise of the Year in Salford in 2018. I’ve also been on The One Show, in the Waitrose food magazine, on Manchester Evening News and many other platforms, telling my story and promoting my business.
With therapy, support and understanding, I’ve learned to leave my past behind.
In the 23 years since my incarceration, I’ve not only created and grown HMPasties, but I’ve also done a lot of work with survivors of abuse – a cause very close to me. I worked as a trustee on the board of directors with Survivors Manchester, a charity specifically supporting male survivors of abuse and rape. I know how important their work is, as I also accessed their services when I needed support. Had their services, or something similar, been around when I was younger I might have been able to talk about my experiences sooner and leave my past behind. It’s amazing that they have now set up support groups in a number of UK prisons.
I’ve also spoken at different events promoting mental health services, opening up discussions on how to engage men in these services and how to provide a safe space or ‘men only day’ in clinics, where men can go to talk about their experiences and find the help they need.
How I felt about my past used to hold me back. I couldn’t continue carrying all the shame and guilt I felt, and so – with therapy, support and understanding – I’ve learned to leave my past behind. I feel like I’ve lived two different lives and my past does not define me or my successes.