HMP Dovegate, 2013
Most of my life I've been a criminal. At the age of twelve I was put into a children's home because I was too much for my mom to handle and from there I just got worse. I had no direction, I did what I wanted and that was mostly drugs and drink. The Devil really had his nails into me but enough of that - let's not glorify the Devil.
About three years ago I got released from prison half way through a three and a half year sentence thinking I was free. But the first day out I bought a bottle of vodka and got drunk; a week after that I was smoking crack cocaine, and five weeks after that I was cutting the tag off my leg because it would have only been a short step for me to be committing crime again. I did not want that; I wanted a life like everyone else.
So there I was thinking I only had six weeks left on my tag but God had other plans, and I had to do the rest of my sentence in full. I thank God that I did because after a short stay in Winson Green I got transferred to Dovegate prison (which is not really a prison - not to me anyway, it was like a Bible college) that was where I found God, or God found me.
The first week I was in there I went to chapel, like you do to socialise, when a friend of mine Scott Reid gave an alter call. Now I believed in God and wanted to get up, but I didn't want to embarrass myself but then I thought, "Who will stand for me at judgement? No one but Jesus." So I stood up and said that "I want that Jesus!" I said it louder than I would have done in the first place. So I got my prayer and went back to my cell.
Now about a week later, I went to Bible study and the same person, Scott Reid, read out Jeremiah 29 v 11-13
For I know the plans I have for you declares the lord plans to prosper you and not to harm you plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Now you would have thought I would have been interested with the first two verses, but no, it was the last, because all my life I thought I was a Christian and I used to wonder why my life was so different from other Christians. Well there was my answer! I was holding back and God doesn't do things by halves. Well, right then I hugged Scott, a man I'd only known about two or three weeks, which is not something you do in a prison.
Over the next three weeks I was still doing the things I normally did, like smoking weed, but that verse kept popping up in my head. For the first few times I pushed it away because I still wanted to do the old things and be a Christian, but one day I really thought about it, then I did the best thing I ever did. I said, "God, OK, here I am!" I really wanted something more in my life, but I knew I couldn't do it myself, so this was my surrender.
After this I started to get more involved in chapel. I even stopped going gym because it clashed with it. I started reading my Bible more and the love and fellowship I found in this prison I had never felt before. I started to show myself - I mean the real me - and I was accepted and built up by my fellow brothers in Christ. I even got involved in Mission 2012 which was great.
Now I was coming to the end of my sentence and I wanted to go to a place where I would be nurtured as a Christian so I spoke to my chaplain Sandie Hicks and she advised me to apply to Vision of Hope in South Wales, but before I even got the application, one Sunday in chapel I got a message that I'd been accepted and all I needed to do was meet with Dinah Sansome to say hello and for her to get to know me.
So my release day came and I got picked up from the gate by Simon a member of staff at Vision of Hope, who is now a good friend. When I got to the farm I felt right at home and joined in the worship on the first night.
My life at the farm was good although challenging at times. It really gave me a good foundation for when it was time to move on. Although I loved being at the farm, I was getting restless so I phoned my friend and brother in Christ Simon Edwards and he said there would always be a place for me in Stoke. So I came up here got planted in a great church. I'm involved with a new ministry called Walk ; I have fallen a few times but I've had my fellowship to help me back up.
When I look back on my life and see how much of a mess I was and compare it to the life I have now, I can see it's only God that could change it so dramatically in such a short time. I just thank God for the people he has put around me, the life he has given me and for the future he has planned for me.
I would like to thank all the people that have helped me and been part of my life. God bless and keep you all,