Friday, May 12, 2006

Follow-up from BBC Radio Five Live broadcast

On Monday 8 May 2006 the Howard League for Penal Reform launched its important report ‘Out for Good’ which addresses the needs of 18 - 20 year old male offenders. As part of this launch a former offender, Craig, joined me in a number of live radio interviews to discuss some of the many associated issues. Following the Radio Five Live broadcast I was contacted by Paul, himself a former offender and prisoner. What follows is his brief story of his personal courageous and determined journey to change his life. Whilst recognising that there are probably few offenders capable of undertaking such a similar journey alone, one is left asking how many could, were they to be supported and encouraged to do so.

"Hi Trevor

I was moved to write to you after listening to BBC Five Live this morning. I want to tell you my story and offer myself as a mentor or a speaker to motivate; if ever you need me in the future, keep my details and keep doing what you are doing, it is fantastic.

I basically came out of prison and with hardly any support eventually became a university lecturer and am now a counsellor. Fundamentally, I understand that the majority of people should not be in prison, I have lived and suffered it. Working class cultural norms, peer pressure, learning difficulties and dysfunctional family relations put vulnerable people in prison, this is an outrage.

I was born in Teesside and was raised in a notoriously depressing estate. My grandmother was a prostitute and allowed a paedophile to baby sit my father and his three brothers and two sisters. I won’t explain the horrendous circumstances of the arrangement; however, he had the freedom to abuse if he waived the baby sitting fee. Several months later, my five year old father witnessed the horrendous murder of his 6 month year old brother, my uncle.

This came to my attention when I was 15 years of age. My father psychologically tortured me for this length of time and was often violent towards me and my mother every other day. As a counsellor, I now know he was ‘acting out’ and suffering from post-traumatic shock.

My mother, out of desperation, then abandoned us both when I was 15 to start a lesbian relationship. My father then became more unstable so I went into the depressing culture of gangs to escape his violence; I was also an angry young man. The only self-esteem and respect I knew was now developing within my peer group. Classically, I was having my damaged ego stroked by being ‘one of the lads’. I was involved with criminals and a football hooligan gang and was sent to prison (Durham) when I was 22 for a burglary, then later for gang fighting. So from the age of about 19 to 23 I was involved in a lot of crime. During my low ebb, I had a local gangster making a genuine threat to kill me. Currently, he is serving life for murders. My two best friends from those days are now sadly dead, from heron addiction.

Through all of this, I remained fairly sensitive and understood right and wrong. It may sound paradoxical, but my obvious success of the last two decades indicates this. The day I came out of prison I put my thumb out on the A19 and ended up walking into a Cambridge hotel and asked for a job. I then moved to Germany and had 5 wonderful years rebuilding my life with a loving woman and her family and a great works agency. Alex then encouraged me to educate myself as I picked up the language quickly, we parted friends then and I moved to Bradford to begin university.

I have had a tough and incredible journey. I now have a tough client group at a local hospice. I counsel local men who have similar backgrounds to myself, and I hold them through their pains. I am developing my own tools of counselling, when clients, with difficult upbringings, tell me they ‘cant’ then I look them in the eyes warmly, self-disclose my story, and tell them they can. I bring hope to those in hopeless situations. I am now looking forward to step out into the community.


Paul M"

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