Prison didn’t turn my life around. A man called Neil did

My life completely turned upside down when I was 18 (Picture: Getty Images) Razor blade cuts. Machete stab wounds. Concussions. Resuscitations. These are the physical scars I bear – including 38 knife marks on my torso alone – but it feels like it’s from a former life. A version of me I no longer recognise. Of course, I have regrets. But everything that’s happened – both in and out of prison – has made me who I am today. I struggled fitting in and sitting still in school. I loved playing sports but I just couldn’t concentrate in class. By the time I was nine, I found the reason why – an ADHD diagnosis. I was put on strong medication that made me feel awful, like a horse doped-up on ketamine. So I stopped taking it. As a result, my attention span continued to decline and I began misbehaving more. When I was in Year 7, I started smoking both cigarettes and weed – often in abandoned warehouses with my friends. Within a few years, I started binge drinking too, which led to doing stupid things like shoplifting, public order acts and assaults. I ended up being expelled from seven different secondary schools. At the age of 16, I dropped out of school altogether without doing my GCSEs and moved out of home. I tried a supermarket job, but I just couldn’t sit still so I started working in construction with my dad. To make extra money, I began selling drugs on the side too. Soon after, I found out that my girlfriend at the time was pregnant. Unfortunately, during the birth on Christmas Day in 2008 when I was 17, our baby was stillborn. It was terrible, which led to a huge spiral for me. Then my life completely turned upside down when I was 18. I was drinking cider on a train when I got into an altercation and ended up hitting a man, who turned out to be a plain clothes police officer. I got done for Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. I got stabbed so hard in my stomach that my intestines were hanging out To say prison was a shock to the system would be an understatement. I saw inmates have boiling water poured over them, guys stabbed in the showers and prisoners coerced into brushing their teeth with a toilet brush. I just tried to keep my head down and not make any waves. After my release after a year and a half, I didn’t have a proper support system that could help lead me out of that life so I fell straight back into old habits. As a result, I ended up back in prison within half a year for Gross Bodily Harm (GBH). I was in and out of jail seven or eight times over about a decade. Throughout that time, I had two sons, too. Prison never got any easier. Within that time, I had a pool cue snapped over my head and I was ambushed in the shower with razor blades all over my body. I saw guys beaten to within an inch of their life. I’ve even helped save someone’s life after they tried to end it all. At my most desperate to numb the pain, I’d make hooch in my cell out of orange juice, sugar and bread. It was very strong, so I’d get drunk to pass the time. Things weren’t any better when I was out either. I’ve been shot at and been in huge fights. One time in 2016 – aged 24 – I got stabbed so hard in my stomach that my intestines were hanging out. I wasn’t taking proper care of myself at the time so I didn’t get it seen to immediately. Instead, I went to a bar and got drunk. I ended up pouring some Jack Daniel’s onto the wound to try to sterilise it and then wore a blue glove I got from behind the bar to try to push it back into my body. When my brother turned up and saw what was happening, he forced me to go to a hospital. Shortly after going into A&E, I went into cardiac arrest and I started foaming from the mouth and lost consciousness after losing too much blood. In fact, it was the first time I allowed myself to cry as an adult That’s when I needed to be resuscitated. But even after regaining consciousness, I still didn’t change my ways. That turning point finally came in my late 20s when I was in another prison for a two-year Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) sentence. While there, I met a guy named Neil who was an engagement officer for A Band Of Brothers (ABOB), which is an organisation that offers mentoring to young men involved in the criminal justice system. He told me about the work that they do and planted a seed in my mind, but I still wasn’t quite ready to listen yet until he came back a year later. It was during a family day – where my children were able to visit me – that he gently suggested again that I join the group. By this stage, I was feeling tired of the life I’d made for myself – not to mention hopeless and alone. I had tried to take my life. Thankfully, I wasn’t successful. But that’s when I knew something needed to change. So when Neil asked if I wanted to go on something ABOB calls a Quest weekend in Hastings – after I had been released from prison – I agreed. Essentially, a group of guys get together for a couple of days to talk about anyth

Prison didn’t turn my life around. A man called Neil did
Bars from a jail cell, with someone resting their arms out of them - we can see white sleeves of a white t-shirt
My life completely turned upside down when I was 18 (Picture: Getty Images)

Razor blade cuts. Machete stab wounds. Concussions. Resuscitations.

These are the physical scars I bear – including 38 knife marks on my torso alone – but it feels like it’s from a former life.

A version of me I no longer recognise.

Of course, I have regrets. But everything that’s happened – both in and out of prison – has made me who I am today.

I struggled fitting in and sitting still in school. I loved playing sports but I just couldn’t concentrate in class.

By the time I was nine, I found the reason why – an ADHD diagnosis. I was put on strong medication that made me feel awful, like a horse doped-up on ketamine. So I stopped taking it.

As a result, my attention span continued to decline and I began misbehaving more. When I was in Year 7, I started smoking both cigarettes and weed – often in abandoned warehouses with my friends.

Within a few years, I started binge drinking too, which led to doing stupid things like shoplifting, public order acts and assaults. I ended up being expelled from seven different secondary schools.

At the age of 16, I dropped out of school altogether without doing my GCSEs and moved out of home. I tried a supermarket job, but I just couldn’t sit still so I started working in construction with my dad. To make extra money, I began selling drugs on the side too.

Soon after, I found out that my girlfriend at the time was pregnant. Unfortunately, during the birth on Christmas Day in 2008 when I was 17, our baby was stillborn.

It was terrible, which led to a huge spiral for me. Then my life completely turned upside down when I was 18.

I was drinking cider on a train when I got into an altercation and ended up hitting a man, who turned out to be a plain clothes police officer. I got done for Actual Bodily Harm (ABH) and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

I got stabbed so hard in my stomach that my intestines were hanging out

To say prison was a shock to the system would be an understatement.

I saw inmates have boiling water poured over them, guys stabbed in the showers and prisoners coerced into brushing their teeth with a toilet brush. I just tried to keep my head down and not make any waves.

After my release after a year and a half, I didn’t have a proper support system that could help lead me out of that life so I fell straight back into old habits. As a result, I ended up back in prison within half a year for Gross Bodily Harm (GBH).

I was in and out of jail seven or eight times over about a decade. Throughout that time, I had two sons, too.

Prison never got any easier. Within that time, I had a pool cue snapped over my head and I was ambushed in the shower with razor blades all over my body. I saw guys beaten to within an inch of their life. I’ve even helped save someone’s life after they tried to end it all.

At my most desperate to numb the pain, I’d make hooch in my cell out of orange juice, sugar and bread. It was very strong, so I’d get drunk to pass the time.

Things weren’t any better when I was out either. I’ve been shot at and been in huge fights. One time in 2016 – aged 24 – I got stabbed so hard in my stomach that my intestines were hanging out.

I wasn’t taking proper care of myself at the time so I didn’t get it seen to immediately. Instead, I went to a bar and got drunk. I ended up pouring some Jack Daniel’s onto the wound to try to sterilise it and then wore a blue glove I got from behind the bar to try to push it back into my body.

When my brother turned up and saw what was happening, he forced me to go to a hospital. Shortly after going into A&E, I went into cardiac arrest and I started foaming from the mouth and lost consciousness after losing too much blood.

In fact, it was the first time I allowed myself to cry as an adult

That’s when I needed to be resuscitated. But even after regaining consciousness, I still didn’t change my ways.

That turning point finally came in my late 20s when I was in another prison for a two-year Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) sentence. While there, I met a guy named Neil who was an engagement officer for A Band Of Brothers (ABOB), which is an organisation that offers mentoring to young men involved in the criminal justice system.

He told me about the work that they do and planted a seed in my mind, but I still wasn’t quite ready to listen yet until he came back a year later. It was during a family day – where my children were able to visit me – that he gently suggested again that I join the group.

By this stage, I was feeling tired of the life I’d made for myself – not to mention hopeless and alone. I had tried to take my life. Thankfully, I wasn’t successful.

But that’s when I knew something needed to change. So when Neil asked if I wanted to go on something ABOB calls a Quest weekend in Hastings – after I had been released from prison – I agreed.

Essentially, a group of guys get together for a couple of days to talk about anything that’s going on in their lives – with mentors who’ve been in their shoes.

It’s exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I went there thinking it was going to be a fun weekend with a bunch of lads, but I was surprised how deep it got.

Opening up about my mental health and life – especially the death of my stillborn son at 17 – through various workshops led to a breakthrough of sorts for me.

In fact, it was the first time I allowed myself to cry as an adult. I really thought I was an emotionless person before this weekend, but it was just that I didn’t have the proper outlet to express them.

From there, I did 10 weeks of meetings with a mentor, where I learned to let my walls down even more by opening up about what was going on. After leaving prison this last time, I haven’t been back since.

I’m now even a mentor myself. I go on Quest weekends and share what I’ve been through to try to help others and it’s so rewarding.

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I see these young guys at the start of the weekend scared, vulnerable or with their head down – but when you see them walk away at the end, they’ve got confidence. More importantly, they have a new family of brothers.

The experience has completely changed my life. I don’t go to pubs anymore or hang around with the people I used to – I keep myself out of trouble. I work in and out of the building trade.

As a result of this stability, I met my partner, Sian, in the summer of 2021 on a dating app. She has a daughter and a son, while I have my two sons so it feels like we’re one big family.

I’m sharing this because I want to give young guys in and out of the criminal justice system some hope that things can change – as long as you can open yourself up to it.

There’s no need to shut down, put on a tough guy act or keep everyone out. 

Let your pride go and you could be a happier person as a result – at the very least, you can have hope for a better life.

As told to James Besanvalle

If you’re a young man aged 18-25 involved in the criminal justice system or with mental health issues, visit the ABOB website here to find out more information about how you can get involved.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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