Grant Thomas

Monday January 23rd 2012. After a harrowing Christmas and new year period, which was precipitated by my latest bout of depression, sleeplessness and worthlessness, I rather despondently picked up the phone to call the First Step Trust. At this juncture my life had not fully kicked into gear. I had been volunteering in a charity shop for 12 months by this point but I was still heavily stigmatising myself with my mental problems, which I believe were in some part an explanation, not a justification, for my criminal record. I had been arrested twice before for failing to control my explosive temper fuelled by my mood swings. In truth it could, perhaps should, have been more. I escaped punishment on those occasions, but in this instance it was third time unlucky.

April 1st 2009. The G20 protest. Remember that guy you saw on the BBC news, or pictures in the Guardian and Daily Express smashing the window of the Royal Bank of Scotland? Yes, that was me. My most high profile angry and emotional outburst. Less than a month prior to the incident I had been sleeping rough on London’s streets with little help from the authorities. Without an agenda, motivated by little more than boredom, an abundance of pent up frustration was released. I was fortunate not to be incarcerated for my involvement in the riots at the heart of Britain’s financial sector. After admitting my guilt for criminal damage, charges of violent disorder and burglary were dropped. Some may say that I was lucky in light of the aftermath of the August 2011 riots where some people were sent to prison for merely stealing a bottle of water. My conviction led to a £390 fine and a 12 month conditional discharge. I have now paid my debt, financially and to society, and have been in no trouble with the authorities since.

Still, by early 2012 I was in a terrible state. After the phone call, I arranged to go for a meeting at the First Step Trust head office the following Thursday. They are a charity that create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people who want to get back into work whilst working in a real working environment that delivers competitive business services. It is real work, not pretend work. They accept volunteers, referred to as workforce members, who have criminal records, mental health and substance abuse problems. Sometimes more than one are inextricably linked. They have projects around the country which provide opportunities for people to gain valuable experience in mechanics, catering, administration, finance and more.

I was to work at the main office in Woolwich, South East London. Once I started, I soon found working in the finance department the role which best suited me. Initially, the first few months were tough and it just seemed as though I was randomly entering numbers onto spreadsheets without really knowing what I was doing. But gradually, the purpose began to sink in and I now understand what is required to work within the finance department of a real business. I assist in many important roles. As time has passed I have increased in experience and have been given more responsibility. I am capable of completing various tasks alone while at the same time knowing there is supervision there to help me. I can work as part of a team and sometimes help new workforce members. I have had additional support with motivation, job search and interview preparation.

I had not studied since failing to complete a Law degree in 2006, but I have recently started an OCR level 1 bookkeeping course, and will soon be starting a health and safety at work course. Now that I have a structured routine, a regular sleeping pattern and the feeling of going to a ‘job’, it has given me a real sense of purpose. A semblance of hope for the future. Rather than just being another angry and depressed young man who felt as if he had no right to exist alongside everybody else.

My social life has improved drastically. I now exercise regularly. I play badminton at least once per week. I recently completed 20 days of Bikram yoga. I eat more healthily and have even lost 21 pounds in weight. I feel more connected with my friends and family. And I have even enrolled on a module at the Open University, in International environmental policy, in my study towards an Open degree Bachelor of Arts.

Essentially, this time last year I did not consider myself to be highly employable. I now consider myself to be a fully functioning member of society who just wants to have another chance at life. Hopefully I can put my past behind me and live for the future.

For more information visit First Step Trust.

Taken from Issue 18

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