Jason's story

Jason James

My father used to drink a lot and I grew up in a house where domestic violence seemed normal. When I was eight, my mum had to run away with us to sheltered housing; I remember feeling very cold and not at home. My behaviour began to be affected and my attitude got really bad. I started fights and did things like pouring water into electrics. I was the class clown, but I wasn’t happy.

By this time, mum had started to drink and take drugs. As a nine year old kid I would be upstairs and men and women would be playing loud music, getting drunk and smoking in our house. Mum started to deal Class A and B drugs and I used to have to do drug runs for her. I remember going on my mountain bike to deliver £1,000 worth of drugs. Around this time my mum started dating a new man called Jo; he looked out for me and we became very close – he felt like a stepdad to me.

A few years later Jo died suddenly. I didn’t know what to do, he was so important to me. I was so angry that, having avoided it for years, I started drinking and taking Class A drugs. I stopped going to school and from there I got addicted to the freedom of committing crimes like grabbing someone’s wallet and running. This got worse as I started a gang; my life was revolving around crime, drugs and the gang.

When I was 16, my house got raided and I was arrested for so many robberies. This was the beginning of a cycle where I was in and out of prison, and I became addicted to Class A drugs. The first thing I wanted every morning was the drug. I’d commit crimes, and dealt drugs myself, to pay for it. My family gave up on me and with nowhere to turn, I found myself living on the streets. My first taste of homelessness was scary. I was dirty and unshaven, and slept mainly on benches. I became part of the homeless community. I felt ashamed and powerless. When someone offered me a stronger Class A drug, I started to take that too. This continued for seven long years; I don’t know where the time went.

During one particular prison sentence, I finally admitted I had a problem and asked for help. They moved me to a therapeutic rehab community; it took 12 months of very hard work but I was finally clean and I left to finish my time in an open prison. I decided to become a recovery advocate – working to support fellow inmates who were active addicts.

As it got near to my release date I knew I needed support; I didn’t want to end up in a hostel. I heard about Emmaus; I didn’t want charity, so instead I saw it as opportunity – the chance to start again, with support around me. I was a companion at Emmaus Oxford for 18 months. The staff were really supportive and I enjoyed working on the van delivering and collecting furniture for the store. After a few months at Emmaus I met up with my family again. My sister said it was the first time she’d seen the real Jason in 15 years and I remember my mum said she felt like she’d won the lottery.

The Emmaus support staff helped to rebuild my confidence and pushed me in the right direction. They encouraged me to apply for a job working as a Homeless Support Worker at a local shelter – I was so pleased when I found out I’d got it. I’m now living in a private rented flat and doing really well. I also work part-time for Emmaus, supporting companions. If it wasn’t for Emmaus I wouldn’t be in the position I am now, and I’m so grateful.

I’ve learnt that you can turn a negative into a positive. With the support of my family, and the staff at rehab and Emmaus, I’ve now been clean and sober for seven years. I’ve learnt to have courage and to believe that change is possible. Magical things can happen!