I first got into trouble with the law when I was arrested in 1990, at the age of 24. Heavy drinking was at the centre of my crime, but I was also going through a particularly difficult custody battle. In 1992 I was given a six month prison sentence, of which I served three months in HMP Lincoln. My time in prison, though short, was eventful and stressful. Whilst I was inside my second child was born and my father suffered a heart attack.
In prison we were able to go to the gym, but other than this there didn’t appear to be any education or training on offer. When I got out, I wasn’t able to return to my old job, shelf-filling on a night shift, and – without new skills or qualifications – it was difficult to find a new one. Luckily for me, I did have a home to go back to – unlike many ex-offenders for whom the lack of housing is a huge problem.
After I was released I went back to committing crime. I feel like my behaviour at this time stemmed from anger at the system, as well as from the stress of my ongoing custody battle. I found myself fighting to survive by taking the odd job here and there.
It was the beginning of what I now think of as my ‘three years in the wilderness’, filled with grieving and drinking
In 1993 my youngest son died. Not long after, I was sent back to court for another offence. I was facing a further five years in prison, but I think the judge took into account my situation and ruled that no good would come from sending me to prison again, given everything that had recently happened. Instead, I was given a two year probation period.
It was the beginning of what I’ve now come to think of as my ‘three years in the wilderness’, filled with grieving and drinking. During this time, my life was one of hopelessness. In addition to the tragic death of my youngest son, I had also lost my partner, my relationship with my surviving child, and my job. It was a really tough time for me.
One day in 1996, after three years of pain and suffering, I went to the job centre where I found an advertisement for a placement at Notts County with the Football in the Community training programme. I completed my preliminary coaching course and was lucky enough to begin working there as a football coach. 23 years later, I’m in the amazing position of being a level 3 qualified FA football coach, able to provide independent coaching to teams throughout the country. That simple visit to the job centre changed everything.
Becoming a coach was the catalyst – through coaching, I was forming new, positive friendships
By 1997 I had completely stopped drinking. I managed to do this all by myself, as it was something that had to come from within. Becoming a coach was the catalyst for this – through coaching, I was forming new, positive friendships and I wanted to be honest about my past and who I was now.
My time in prison made me understand the true importance of education. That’s what’s been so wonderful about having been given the opportunity to gain the qualifications I have in my FA role. Since I first started with the FA I have gained 25 qualifications and completed 15 years of football coach education. I mentor people one-to-one and work in schools, colleges and universities. I have also created a successful community event called ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’, which encourages kids in the community to come together and have a kick about. Kids are given complete ownership over the event. It has since expanded, and now has support from the local council, the army, the police and HMP Lowdham Grange who give demonstrations with their search dogs.
Most importantly, I have also started coaching football in prisons. From this, my charity Step Out Stay Out was created. Since then I have delivered training adapted from FA courses for inmates in ten different prisons. It’s a great feeling to be able to teach people skills that they might be able to utilise after release.
The first thing I tell them is that I once sat where they are now, and that now I get to come into prisons to tell my story and teach something positive.
When I go into prisons to coach, you can tell that some of the inmates have simply taken a wrong turn in life. The first thing I tell them is that I once sat where they are now, and that now I get to come into prisons to tell my story and teach something positive. When I tell them this, I can feel their respect for me. It’s powerful and it makes me feel ten feet tall.
More Than My Past is important to me because it shows people that you must not look at an individual and think that their past defines who they are now. Everyone has a past, whether it is good or bad. But we must not stereotype, because it’s easy to make mistakes. I know that there were times when I was wrong, but I am able to recognise that and I have since put it right. I truly believe that when you learn these lessons in life it is important to pass them on in whatever way you can, even if it’s just to one person, because that one person could tell five others.
I believe my combination of skills and experience is powerful: experience of offending and being in prison, as well as qualifications and the ability to coach and educate people, enable me to help break the stigma surrounding offending and addition. I’m proud of myself and my ability to inspire others into realising they have the potential to be successful. I’m proof it can be done.