Nelly's story

Oxford Nelly Neilsen 260213 web

I was born in Newcastle in the sixties, to a quite poor family. My dad worked away at sea so I didn’t get to see him a lot. When I was five he was killed in an accident at work, which left my mum struggling. She tried to commit suicide several times, which meant that my siblings and I were sent out to foster families.

Unfortunately, I ended up staying with an uncle who abused me, mentally, physically and sexually. He also used to send me out fighting - to cover up the bruises and injuries that he gave me.

My uncle told me that I wasn’t meant to have feelings, I wasn’t supposed to care for anybody, I wasn’t supposed to have any emotional attachment to anything because it held you back in life. I became very aggressive and angry, and as I was growing up I couldn’t really make any friends because I was constantly fighting.

That led to me hating society in general. I felt that everyone should have been able to see what I was going through, but they couldn’t. And so, because people didn’t acknowledge my problems, I felt that they were actually allowing them to happen.

I started taking my anger out on everyone around me and then I just dived head first into a life of crime and violence. I was taking and selling drugs. I was involved in a few gangs. My uncle died around that time and that left me frustrated, angry and confused because I had been planning to confront him.

I was out one afternoon drinking and taking drugs with some friends. I ended up getting really drunk and arguing with different people in different pubs. Then I went to my uncle’s – I’m assuming that I was thinking he was still alive because I was worse for wear with drink and drugs – and when I got there and he wasn’t there I just lost the plot. So when I left his I just started attacking people in the street. It wasn’t anyone in particular it was just anyone who got on my nerves. The consequence of that was that I beat someone to death.

I handed myself in to the police and ended up getting a life sentence. I was relieved. I was done struggling with life. At that particular time I was actually angry that the death penalty wasn’t in place, but then I started living a life in prison like I had been outside. I sold drugs and chased people around and was really violent which led to a lot of punishment moves – going into solitary confinement around the different prisons. I carried on that way for about eight or nine years. I think I was scared that I might be the same person when I got out.

But through all of this time in prison I was seeing psychiatric nurses and counsellors and lots of people who were saying that there was hope for me and that I could change – I just needed the right kind of help. Soon I went to a therapeutic prison and I decided I needed to give it a try to see if I could change. That in itself was one of the hardest things – just being able to ask for help – because I couldn’t do it when I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed. After seven years, I felt that I could move forward and I worked hard becoming a bit of an ambassador for Grendon because I believed in it so much.

I then moved on to taking the exams I had missed at school, and then I started community service and eventually full-time work. I was supposed to leave prison at Christmas 2010, but I was too scared. I refused to leave. I had been in prison so long it was all I knew. I could only see a downward spiral from there.

I didn’t have anywhere to live and hostels weren’t suitable because they didn’t cater for my needs. They were more orientated towards supervision and I needed freedom to work. So I decided in January 2011 to give Emmaus a try. I love what it stands for. I love the fact that it does solidarity work and that I can do some training and the fact that I am working full time. I never had a proper full-time job before I went to prison.

All I really want to do now is just continue trying to give something back to society. I think when you have lived like I have and done the things that I have you get a great need to give things back. I don’t want to see myself as still a hindrance to society. I want to prove that I can be an asset and I believe that I am slowly doing that.

I have been giving talks to the probation service about prison and my life, helping young probation officers to understand how it feels to be a life-time prisoner and the way that people can change. I also talk to vulnerable kids, and their mentors, and have even worked one-on-one with a young offender who seemed to really respond to what I have to say.

I am getting on really well at Emmaus – and they have given me the opportunity to be able to do things because there is no pressure to move on. I think I am getting strong enough and confident enough and more prepared to move on when I am ready. So the future that I couldn’t see seems quite clear now – I have actually got some direction in life. Hopefully with the help of Emmaus I can go a long way.