Posted on 17 November 2023
The Cost of Violence
The Knife Angel is quite unlike any other sculpture in Britain. It was created in 2018 by the artist Alfie Bradley and the British Ironworks Centre out of 100,000 knives, either seized by police or handed in during an amnesty. It tours the UK to highlight to young people the terrible cost that violence has on their communities.
When Matt and the team at COOK Colchester were approached by the local Council to ask if they could donate a raffle prize to support its time in the city, they spring into action. The shop hosted a stand and shared stories about our RAW Talent programme, which offers training and jobs to people who are desperate to rebuild their lives and would otherwise struggle to find work. These include many who’ve spent time in prison. Adults released from prison have a high chance of reoffending (39% according to a report from last year) and we know from experience that a secure, supportive and well-paid job can be the cornerstone on which a life is rebuilt.
At the official Knife Angel closing ceremony in Colchester, one of our RAW Talents gave a frank and moving talk about his own experience of leaving prison and joining COOK via RAW Talent.
He has agreed to share his story here…
“The moment everything changed for me came almost ten years ago. I was out on a night of heavy drinking which ended with me being arrested for Causing Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent.
When I woke up in the police station the following morning, I didn’t know what I’d done, or why I was there. But what I do remember, vividly, was being shown the footage from the CCTV camera. I had to witness my own offence taking place like an out of body experience. Although I saw myself on that screen, the man that I saw before me wasn’t someone I knew, or someone I identified with. But I knew that in the space of the five seconds of brutality that I watched on the screen, two people’s lives had been irreparably changed, and many, many more impacted massively. Watching that footage, I sobbed.
What happened that night? I can’t really tell you other than I’d been incredibly sad in the period leading up to it and I’d been drinking more and more regularly. But before that moment I’d believed I’d led an essentially good life. I was raised in a loving household, attended good schools, completed a degree, held positions of responsibility in large companies, was a loving boyfriend, and a devoted son. None of that mattered now. I was charged and spent nearly two years on bail awaiting trial. I went through the full cycle of grief: denial, anger, and bargaining, until eventually the sadness that I’d had before my offence became an all-consuming depression. I felt irredeemable. I wondered if I should listen to the messages I was getting on social media, and just kill myself. I pled guilty and received a five-year prison sentence.
For the first year inside prison I retreated even further into myself and my misery. But in my second year I decided to make a change. I started taking courses, like plumbing. And I began working for charities to try and improve the lives of other prisoners. I found purpose in trying to help others.
It was towards the end of my sentence, when I was allowed out on day release, that I got the chance to work for COOK. What a great opportunity. But I discovered I was a different person when I walked out of those prison gates.
I would worry disproportionately over uncontrollable things and suffer crippling social anxiety. I couldn’t easily build relationships. Partly because I feared people’s judgement and partly because I didn’t feel I deserved to be liked. I would isolate myself, because it was easier than facing up to the shame and guilt of my actions, or to the risk people may have known about me. Every eye contact with every stranger brought up that fear. I became angry because I was frustrated, and then became upset because I was afraid of my anger. It’s taken me years to get to this point, where I feel able to share my story. I absolutely do not want or expect sympathy. That should be reserved for the victim of my crime, for which I will always be deeply, truly sorry.
But if we are to build more caring, connected, safer communities where we can all flourish, then I’ve learned we need develop deep compassion and human understanding. We need to embrace the potential for people to change and be generous in offering opportunities to do so.
Without RAW Talent I wouldn’t be here. I would still be the scared, broken man I was when I left prison. From my first day at work, my colleagues, who knew everything about me, showed me a warmth and acceptance that I was quite sure I didn’t deserve. As a company that embraces care, honesty, equality, family and fun amongst its core values, COOK has enabled a new me to emerge.
I’ve seen close up how violence wrecks lives. I believe we can change that. We’ve all got to believe we can change that.”
To read more about The Knife Angel and see if it’s coming to a town near you, click here.