Johnnie, LEAP member

"Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and it has made me feel accepted and a part of the community."

I first got locked up 1971 for a house break in. I was 11 years old and got made a ward of the state. My father had had brain hemorrhage and I started doing things wrong to get attention. I was 14 when I pinched my first car and from then on started getting sentences. I’d be up for parole and then escape and involve myself with alcohol, pills, and marijuana, so I’d go back in. I was in Pentridge by the time I was 17.

Being in an adult prison with hard core crims I was always anxious and in fear. It really affected me. It was in Pentridge when I had my first intravenous hit. I don’t even know what drug it was but I was numb, and I wasn’t anxious anymore.

Over the years I went up what they call ‘the criminal ladder’ as my addiction got worse – from pinching cars to assaults and armed robbery. I even got caught in a bank once, dressed as a priest trying to cash dodgy cheques. Later I started dealing. I had a couple of cars and a girl hanging on my arm and I thought I was the best bloke around. But then I owed some big-time dealers and they said, ‘pay up or else’. I did a crime and got caught. When I got to prison I was really sick and I ended up in rehab. That planted a seed of hope that something good might happen if I stopped using drugs. But it took years, and my sentences would also get longer and longer.

Outside of prison I didn’t know about the responsibilities of life. I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t know that you don’t wash jumpers with towels, that you don’t wash t-shirts with jeans. I felt hopeless and worthless and that would always result in me using drugs again. But then I’d go to rehab and give it another go.

I ended up having a rehab romance and had two kids. When they were 21 months and eight months old, I was given sole custody and had to raise them myself. I had friends who helped me and showed me how to make mashed potatoes and cook sausages. It was hard but I loved it.

I’ve now got my own lawnmowing and gardening business and custody of my granddaughter. I know I’m a good person and I feel it. I still have moments, but they are only moments, not days. I also write a gratitude list. I write – I’m grateful that I’m not in prison, I’m grateful I’m not doing crime, I’m grateful I don’t have to go to court, I’m grateful I’m not ripping people off, I’m grateful I’ve got two cars, I’ve got a home I’ve lived in for multiple years, I’ve got a four-foot fish tank and my granddaughter. She gives me a lot of joy.

Forgiveness has been a big part of my journey. I had a lot of guilt and shame about the actions of my past and I’ve made amends for a lot of that. But most of all I’ve forgiven myself. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and it has made me feel accepted and a part of the community.

My goal now is to help others. My addiction made me selfish, it was always about me, but now I want to do what I can to stop others going down the same path.