I used to do things to survive, to feel numb, and hated the person the drugs had made me become. But today I’m a different person.

Life before Emmaus

I’ve lived in Folkestone all my life. I come from quite a troubled background and had a difficult time growing up. My dad was a drug addict who was always in and out of prison, and I often had to act like a father to my younger siblings when I was still younger than 10 myself. Eventually, my parents split up when I was 9 years old. My mum completely disappeared, my siblings went into care, and I went to live with my nan. My nan and granddad used to work in the markets, and when they were there every day of the week, I used to stay with my aunts and uncles.

I got sexually assaulted at the age of 9 up until I was 11. I think that’s when my life took a bit of a turn. I started hanging out with much older boys, and found drink to help me forget about the sexual assault. I hated the drink, but I liked the way it made me feel, and especially how it made me fit in with the older boys. This was important for me because I’ve always felt like a bit of an outcast. Now I know they were laughing at me, but at the time I used to think it was cool, and often got in trouble with the police.

I started smoking cannabis at the age of 13, and got my first prison sentence for shoplifting at 15. I remember it like yesterday – I felt like such a big man, acting like I didn’t care, but I broke down in tears in court. I didn’t want to go to prison. When I came out after a few months, I said to myself I’d never go back, but I continued hanging out with the same people and started taking heavier drugs. This started a cycle that was very difficult to get out of.

Today, I’ve done around 18 years in prison, in and out. And to be truthful, during this time I really didn’t care about anyone. Not enough. I had become addicted to drugs, and I tried kicking the habit many times over the years but was never successful. I have eight beautiful children with my ex-partner of 28 years and six grandchildren, and I tried giving it up for them, but I just couldn’t. As they say, you can’t give it up for anyone else, it has to be for yourself. But I didn’t care enough about myself to be able to do this.

Moving forward

My last prison sentence lasted 8 years, and during this time, something clicked – I didn’t want to continue living like this. I worked hard to get moved from a closed prison to an open one, something I never thought possible. I worked with all the agencies at the open prison and went straight to rehab upon release. It was during this time that I finally found out who I was. At rehab, they strip you back to being a child to look at the reasons why and the places where things went wrong. This taught me a lot about myself, and for the first time, I started finding use in the many courses I had done in prison, which before just seemed like a waste of time. I realised they had actually given me tools that I could use to become a better version of myself. And it didn’t all happen at once of course, it took time, but things started moving forward – it was the start of me being as I am now.

Because I was coming from a high-risk prison, I had to move on to approved premises, which I wasn’t looking forward to because I don’t think they’re the right environment for people with my particular needs. But I heard someone in prison talking about how they were moving to an Emmaus community upon release, and I wanted to learn more. He directed me to the chaplain, who turns out had been involved in setting up Emmaus Dover back in the day, and he told me all about Emmaus and gave me an application form. I came to visit the community during home leave from prison before eventually moving here after rehab.

Living a normal life

Emmaus has done me a world of good. I think it’s a wonderful place for people who come out of prison and want to make a better life for themselves, especially if they have a long history of drug abuse and mental health issues.

For one, Emmaus has provided me with a lot of positive pressure which has been truly great for me. I know that despite all the work I had done on myself, I would have found it very hard after rehab without the structure and daily routine provided by Emmaus. I always found myself with too much time on my hands and too little purpose when I came out of prison, which ended up pushing me back into the cycle. I had no structure whatsoever – I never had breakfast or dinner and barely even had lunch, just lived off chocolate and milkshakes. But here, I get up and share all meals with other companions, and I work five days a week in the shop. It’s not the hardest work, but what matters is the purpose it gives you, the meaning of it. You get out of bed to take part in something bigger. You help others, you help the community, and you help yourself.

Living at Emmaus has made me feel like a normal person, something I had never felt before. I had never felt as welcome anywhere as I felt when I first joined, and I can honestly say I feel part of a community for the first time in my life. I have my own room here and I had never had a place to live on my own before. I’m even learning to take compliments, something I really struggled with in the past, and gaining the confidence that nothing but drugs would ever give me back before I joined. I went from never having had a normal job or a community, to getting up with a purpose, doing my work and having dinner with my community. I’m finally learning to live a normal life.

I’ve been out of prison for four months now and can proudly say I’ve stayed completely away from drugs during this time. Without Emmaus, I don’t think I would be where I am now, and I’m so very grateful.

A brighter future

Emmaus has also given me the opportunity to do something more with my life, and I have a lot going on now compared to what I had a few months ago. A priority of mine is getting my children back in my life, even though it’s hard for them to trust me, because every time I come out of prison I tell them I’m going to behave myself but I always ended up back in.

When I was in rehab, I gave a talk at a prison about my life, my time in prison, where I am now and what had helped me get here. It was a weird but very rewarding experience, being able to go into a prison as a visitor to help people who were in the same position I had been in for so long. I believe I can help others by sharing my experience, and Emmaus is now offering me some training so I can give similar talks in schools to advise children about my life and where it’s led me.

My main priority at the moment is to stay away from drugs and continue doing what I’m doing. I have no plans of leaving Emmaus in the foreseeable future because it’s done so much good to me and I know I have a long way to go still. I have a week off next week and I look forward to taking some time to myself with the holiday money that Emmaus has been saving up for me.

I used to do things to survive, to feel numb, and hated the person the drugs had made me become. But today I’m a different person. I know that all I have to do is keep going, because there’s a lot more to come.