I am a deputy community leader in Medway, Kent, but it’s taken me quite a while to get here. Now, I like to think that I am pretty level-headed and that people can feel confident when they come to talk to me that I will listen and help them out, but I used to have a real attitude. I’ll say it myself, I was a horribly angry man, and I took it out on everyone around me. I wouldn’t let anyone help me, and I wanted nothing to do with the people I thought of as interfering busybodies.
I was brought up in care after my parents’ marriage break up, because my mum had a nervous breakdown. I was placed with various children’s homes at the age of four, but from a very young age I knew that they weren’t my real parents and I held a grudge. I stayed in care homes while my four brothers and one sister went and lived with foster parents.
I don’t remember much joy in my childhood, I was what was called a problem child. I was always angry at everything. I used to get myself into trouble at school and then with the law, just to get a reaction. At 15, I burgled a café and ended up being sent to a detention centre. Instead of teaching me not to do it again, it had the opposite effect. I was even more enraged – how dare people treat me that way? I went back to the children’s home and used my fists to show my dissatisfaction. It didn’t take long before I was placed in a bedsit on my 16th birthday. Alone.
For the next decade or so I was in and out of borstal and prison. I gained a reputation as a forger, but one day I got a break that changed the path of my life, for a little while at least. I was washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen, and the dessert chef didn’t show up. The boss asked me to stand in, and after a while he offered to put me through a college course, which I somehow managed to complete. It was the first time in my life that anyone had ever offered me any real encouragement.
I used my experience there to get chef jobs at summer camps, living by the sea, my accommodation included, it was an easy lifestyle. But with it came another side – drugs. I’d stay up all night and then take more amphetamines so that I could work all day. One thing led to another and I ended up in prison for three years. I came out, went straight back to the same scene. I tried doing the job straight, but I couldn’t and it was just a slippery slope to harder drugs. Heroin.
It was awful. I felt dirty, nasty, I lost myself in a way that I never had before. I was so addicted I could not think of anything else. Of course, I lost my job and the home that went with it. I turned up at my brother’s house a broken man, and luckily, he and his wife took me in and helped me go cold turkey.
So what changed? Well, I did, after I came to Emmaus, but it was still a slow process. I joined Emmaus Bristol eleven years ago, after coming from a night shelter. I heard about Emmaus Hampshire when it was just a group. I was desperate for it to open, but at that point they were a long way off with funding.
My time in Bristol was not easy. I had an idea of homeless people which didn’t include me. I couldn’t see that I was one too – I had used drugs, I had been in prison, but somehow I still thought I was better than everyone else. I thought my situation was just temporary, I couldn’t see the patterns I was trapped in.
At Bristol, the community leader could see that I needed to be away from other people, and he gave me the task of digging over and clearing the overgrown community allotment. He called it “the attitude re-adjustment course”. I think he thought that I would say ‘no way’ and leave but instead I dug my heels in, and cleared the whole thing. I progressed to working in the shop, but then I made a stupid mistake. I stole from the till and before they could ban me, I left. It was a few years before I fully understand what the community leader was doing by putting me on ‘that course’. To this day, I am grateful for his input.
I stayed in Gloucestershire for a while. As soon as I started at Emmaus I paid part of my allowance to my son to help him as far as I could through college. He let me back into his life after seeing a change in me. I also started trying to raise money to fund the community in Hampshire, while living out for a while, and at St Martins. It was the first time I had done something for someone other than myself. I liked the feeling and was proud to be one of the first companions to live at Hampshire when it opened.
Emmaus has become a way of life for me – I went to Preston to help when they were struggling, and then finally, a job opening came up here at Medway. I lived here for a year, training and learning the ropes, until I officially took up my role as deputy community leader. I had to learn how to get on with people, how to be open and approachable. I had to take my time and settle in, not rush the pace. Sometimes I still want to throw my toys out of the pram, but I think that’s just normal.
I’m no longer a conman, druggie or thief with a chip on my shoulder – but a person that now cares about others more than himself. My past is beneficial. I am not ashamed of it. Because of my past, I can help other people get through their troubles. Emmaus has given me pride in my work and myself and opportunities that I haven’t found anywhere else.