Ex-convicts take first steps to new futures in Crawley mentor scheme

jpco 26-3-14 Band of brothers. L-R, Dave Surridge, Adam Ridgley, Darren Macdonald, Ricky Hill and Steve Bilotto  (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-140325-103655001
jpco 26-3-14 Band of brothers. L-R, Dave Surridge, Adam Ridgley, Darren Macdonald, Ricky Hill and Steve Bilotto (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-140325-103655001

Ex-convicts have described how they have turned their lives around with the help of a new mentor programme.

A Band of Brothers is an initiative set up in Crawley last year with the aim to create a community of men who mentor each other to help leave criminal pasts behind.

Adam Ridgley, 19, of Comper Close, Bewbush, has been jailed twice for robbery and ABH. He lived behind bars between the ages of 14 and 16.

He said when he came out he wanted to stay on the straight and narrow but he found himself turning back to harder crimes.

He said: “The main reason I went back to crime was money issues and having nowhere to go in life and not being able to get a job.”

He was signed into the initiative by his probation worker.

The young men who join up take part in weekends away together where they can be open and honest about their history, their hopes and fears.

Each young man embarks on a 13 week programme with a local man who can provide guidance, known as a mentor.

Mentors spend at least an hour a week with the lads and all the members meet for a weekly group session.

After just three weeks of being mentored Adam said he felt motivated to get a scholarship to study Law at Cambridge University.

He said: “When I’ve had so many push backs in life it’s hard to get the motivation.

“Having that support and people saying you clearly have the intelligence to do it made me go for it.

“Having a degree sets you up for life so I think it’s the first step to a different future.”

Ricky Hill, 20, of the Crawley Foyer, has left behind a life of crime and sleeping in the streets and is looking forward to starting up his own business.

Ricky served a five month prison sentence in 2012 for 59 counts of vehicle thefts, which he did to fund his cannabis addiction.

Since his probation worker signed him up to the scheme he has learnt drugs are not the way to a positive future.

He said he knew most of the men being mentored because many were known by police as PPOs (prolific and priority offenders).

He said: “It’s turned my thoughts from thinking there’s no hope for me and my mates to there could be a glimmer.”

Ricky found himself a job working as a tree surgeon last week and hoped to start his own tree surgery business in the future and become a mentor with the scheme.

He said: “If I didn’t get with A Band of Brothers I wouldn’t have got a job.

“I would still be offending, my temper would still be the way it was. Now I’m more relaxed and I look at things from a different perspective.

Speaking about this article, he said: “It will be nice to be in the middle of the newspaper rather than on the side in the court stories.”

Ricky’s mentor Darren MacDonald, 39, of Rathlin Road, Broadfield, said his main role as a mentor was to be trustworthy. He said: “I don’t give him sermons. I just turn up every week when I say I will. There aren’t many people who have been there for him and believed in him. It’s massive for these guys to have someone do that.”

Adam’s mentor is Steve Bilotto, 39, from Gossops Green.

He said: “Men don’t normally talk openly with their friends about some of that stuff they’ve experienced. Band of Brothers gives these men a safe environment to start exploring that.”

David Surridge, 40, of Lyndhurst Close, Southgate, a business director, signed up to the initiative because he was ’terrified of bringing up a son in the world we live in’.

He said: “I didn’t have a mentor myself when I was young so I really wanted to learn how to be a better dad.

“Judging a book by its cover is the biggest mistake. The back stories of these young men is heartbreaking.

“They were victims of the circumstances they were born into and it’s very very difficult to get out of. Everything is a slammed door in their face.”