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Writing has always interested me, from my first tentative steps as a youngster where I would make up stories of battles and wars, stories of loves and losses of good guys and bad guys.

Reading and writing for me was always an escape from the difficulties I was experiencing in my life.

As I grew to adulthood and the furthering of my difficulties and personal challenges my love for the written word although never diminished was not as important to me, I was and still am to some extent a voracious reader.

My interests however had changed, drugs and alcohol became much more important for me and for decades of my adult life I did not write at all.

It was and is perhaps inevitable that I became hopelessly lost for over a decade to my mental health and addictions. 

An abusive childhood and also some traumas I had experienced in my adult life coupled with undiagnosed autism and a raging addiction eventually found me leaving Ireland and moving to the UK where my life fell apart at an even more prodigious rate. 

Loss of family support and my graduation to injecting my drugs and the psychosis it induced, found me sleeping rough and eating from bins, culminating in committing crimes to feed my addiction and ultimately prison. 

Prison for the first time as a man in my 30s was a jarring, chaotic and frightening experience, I was lucky in some regard that I had military experience and had been in other institutions for my mental health. 

The first six months were difficult for me, I was still using spice and taking part in the prison economy. 

There was not a lot in prison, but the one thing we did have was access to the library, I would borrow as many books as I was allowed to and scurrying back to my 10 x6 I could escape my cell for the night. 

A chance encounter with the prison Chaplin was to change my course inside and chart me on a new direction of healing and self discovery. 

The Chaplin explained to me that only two people spend time in a cell, one was a monk and the other was a prisoner, he also said that I had a choice in which I wanted to be. 

I chose a monk, eventually. 

I had suffered and punished myself enough over the course of my life and refused to be punished anymore. 

To that end I began to slowly change and to use my time to heal my broken body and soothe my damaged mind. 

As I got clean and fit from relentless exercise I started to notice things for the first time. 

I realised how very privileged I was, there was a huge vast majority of prisoner's for whom words were a problem, some struggled with more basic reading and writing and some even struggled to read at all even the signage dotted around the prison complex. 

I thought to myself at the time that I had never met so many people in one place who struggled with literacy, I then mused that perhaps that was part of the reasons for their incarceration in the first place. 

Whilst working for the prison library I became aware of a prisoner-led, literacy mentoring programme called turning pages. 

Turning pages was run by a charity called the Shannon Trust. 

I volunteered for the programme and was delighted when I was accepted, the trainers from the program would come to the prison library and run day courses for the half dozen of us who were chosen. 

Upon completion of training, we were issued with our training packs and tools and set to work. 


The sense of joy shared by two men locked up in a dark place, as one under guidance from the other read, at the age of thirty, the first simple lines from our first training book. 

The wide smiles and happiness were genuine on both sides and for the briefest of moments, the sun shone through that grey steel warehouse of loss and regret. 

 

Upon my release from prison, in fact, an anecdote I regularly share at our stalls, events and currently our shop in Meadowhall with our customers and visitors is that I came to the Cathedral Archer Project, within an hour or two of my release from HMP Moorlands. 

I was immediately taken under the guidance and care of the projects attached to social enterprise, Just Works, initially, I started as a cleaner, but I made known my fondness for the written word. 

My very first Christmas as partner-participant at the project I was asked if I would like to write and recite a poem for the Carol service that year, the Carol service, a yearly event held close to Christmas every year in the cathedral. 

Naturally, I jumped at the chance of the experience and my first live poem "the ragged man” was born. 

This rekindled my fire for writing, I have this year, digitally and in accordance with government, guidelines performed my poetry for the Carol Service for the fourth consecutive year. 

It was with the prompting of my support worker Terry at Just Works that I joined a local creative writing group, Cast a creative writing group for people who have suffered from their mental health at local Sheffield charity Flourish, this encouraged me to greater heights and gave me the opportunity to hone my skills. 

To date My Facebook page "Words From The Shed” has garnered more than thirty thousand views on some of my pieces” and in February 2021 my poem “Numbers” an emotional angry piece that deals with the shocking statistics of male suicide was played on BBC Radio Sheffield I was then invited on live on air to discuss the topics raised.

I now also write a blog for south Yorkshire police where I try to give an offender's perspective on criminal justice.

It's fair to say now that writing is extremely important to me, it has given me a voice and a platform it has increased my self-esteem and self-confidence, writing is the purest catharsis I have ever experienced, it enables me to stand and tell the whole world things I may never have or even knew how to.

I am glad that I work here at Just Works. Here I have been encouraged to grow as a writer and a man and when I was comfortable with my writing, a role was created for me and I now write our social media content, blogs, articles and the like, across our parent charity the cathedral archer project and for us here at just works.

Writing has had a massive positive impact on me, but it was this place that gave me the focus and direction and freedom to follow my dreams.

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