Turning my back on crime
Matt spent most of his teenage years in trouble with the police and ended up serving time in a young offenders' institute. He tells TheSite.org how he's turned his life around.
My story probably started in the same way as a lot of young people. From the age of 14 I got in with the wrong crowd. It was petty crime to start off with, which progressed into more serious things. My main offences were car theft and burglaries. I started by stealing from shops and then I got into even worse things and started skiving off school. I think the reason I got into trouble was because I had no direction in my life at that time. My parents always tried to show me the right way, but I always thought I knew what was best, and it just went from bad to worse. I was influenced by the older people that I hung around with. We were in a gang and everyone was getting into trouble. Once you get to that stage, it's hard to get out of it.
I'm part of quite a large family and I've never known my Dad. I don't know if that had an effect on my behaviour, but I've been told that it probably did. I think I was rebelling because I didn't have a solid family structure to help me have a good start in life. That was probably one of the main reasons; even though my Mum tried really hard, and I had my Step-dad, but it wasn't the same.
Fear of the consequences
I was scared of what might happen to me, but I didn't really think about the consequences until I actually got sent down for six months. It was a big shock to me. Young offenders' institutes are worse than adult prisons because everybody there wants to be the 'top bloke' and there's lots of fighting and bullying. I found it really difficult. You have to portray yourself in a certain way in order to survive. You have to be a fighter, and you have to be one of the mouthy ones who can handle themselves. Otherwise, you just get picked on, and I think some people end up killing themselves in prison because of that.
"I think young offender institutes are worse than adult prisons because everybody there wants to be the 'top bloke' and there's lots of fighting and bullying."
Looking back now, I had a bit of support, but not as much as I could have had. Probation officers came to see me a couple of times, but at that time, I was only 16, and I should've been going college, but I didn't take my GCSEs at that time. I think it would have been a good idea for them to get me into education or help me do something structural with my time. But I think their case-load was too big to be able to deal with the youngsters properly. My family stuck by me, but there were ups and downs. I actually got kicked out of the house a couple of times, because I was too naughty. That probably made things a bit worse, but then there were six kids, so my parents couldn't really concentrate on me as they had to think of the others as well.
After leaving the young offenders' institute it was hard to get onto a straight path again. I couldn't get a job or get into college and I still got into trouble and was doing the same things as when I was younger. The turning point was when I was about 19. I packed my stuff and moved away from the area I was in, because I really wanted to change, but I didn't know how to. I moved down to Cornwall, and that's how I got onto the Life Change UK Programme, run by C-FAR, a charity based in Devon. If you want to change, you've got to move away from the area and the situation that you're in, because it's hard when you've got the same people around who influence you so much.
The Life Change UK programme lasted for a year, with a 12-week residential phase based in army camps, but it wasn't through the army; it's an independent charity. They look at your behaviour and why you're offending. Basically, they break you down, and build you up as a new person. You learn lots of basic skills, including how to get a job and what you need to do to succeed in life. They show you a better side to life, which is good as a lot of people who get into trouble when they're young have low self-esteem, and they don't really see any good points in life. You go through a nine-month mentor process where they help you get some work experience or voluntary work, go to college, or whatever you choose to do. I volunteered at an outdoor event centre for disabled people. I really enjoyed being there so I wrote a letter to the centre and asked if I could volunteer for three months. They accepted and then offered me a full-time job. I left there this January after five years, and that's when I moved back home. I'm glad I had the chance to go on the programme, but unfortuntely C-FAR had to close because of problems over funding, although efforts are being made to get it back up and running through Life Change UK.
At the moment I'm a support worker working with disabled people, and I've just been offered a job as a professional support worker with the Youth Justice team. It's going to be a great opportunity for me to help young people who have gone through a similar situation and I'm really looking forward to it.