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Attack man turns life around

PUBLISHED: 08:28 30 October 2008 | UPDATED: 12:08 03 July 2010

THREE years ago Michael Johnson woke up covered in somebody else's blood, unsure what he had done the night before. Before he knew it the police were on his doorstep, he was hauled before the courts and imprisoned.

THREE years ago Michael Johnson woke up covered in somebody else's blood, unsure what he had done the night before. Before he knew it the police were on his doorstep, he was hauled before the courts and imprisoned.

Now he is attempting to rebuild his life and put the stigma of a jail sentence behind him with the help of an employment scheme for ex-offenders.

The night 24-year-old Michael's life was turned upside down remains something of a blur.

He had spent the evening drinking with friends and family before returning to his Great Yarmouth home. The next thing he knew he was waking up wearing blood stained clothes with a deep sense of foreboding about the previous night's events.

It wasn't until a day later when the police arrived on his doorstep that the full horror of what had happened came flooding back.

There had been a drunken argument with another man during which Michael produced a kitchen knife. The entire incident was captured on a security camera, leaving him with no option but to admit his crime and face the consequences.

He said: “The other guy was left with a cut to his face, a broken nose and bruises across his face.

“I still don't completely remember what happened. It was just a stupid drunken argument but it went badly wrong.”

Michael is not a stereotypical criminal - until this offence he had never stepped inside a court room, yet alone contemplated a jail sentence, and, unlike many inmates, cannot point to a particularly troubled childhood.

“I had to admit what I'd done, I had no choice,” he said. “It wasn't until I arrived at court for sentencing that it dawned on me I could be going to prison.

“Me and my partner had a baby on the way and I suddenly realised that I wouldn't be there to see the birth.”

The former Oriel High School pupil was taken straight from court to Norwich prison where he spent his dreaded first night behind bars. For many first time prisoners, this is when reality dawns. Faced with the loss of liberty and the fears embedded in the public's consciousness about life inside, the first 24-hours is often when inmates are at their most vulnerable.

Michael said: “I was sentenced to two years and served one. I was nervous when I went in but it wasn't as bad in terms of bullying and intimidation as I'd expected.

“I took a course to tackle drink and drug problems and an enhanced thinking skills course which basically helps you change the way you look at things.

“Although this was the first time I'd done something so serious, I'd had trouble with anger in the past and that is something I had to work hard to deal with.”

During his sentence, Michael spent time in Norwich's notorious A-wing which had been dubbed unfit for humans. But he accepts his lot with a shrug, simply saying: “It wasn't as bad as everyone makes out.”

In many ways Michael was lucky - his girlfriend stood by him throughout his time in jail and the couple now have another child on the way, something which he says had focused his mind on getting his life back on track.

His positive attitude has also paid dividends as he became involved with Business in the Community (BITC) upon his release. The charity helps companies improve the impact they have on society - which includes helping ex-offenders find work and stay out of trouble.

Through the charity, Michael found work for Morrison Utility Services where he works on installations in homes, maintaining street light supplies and carry out disconnections as part of a two-man team on behalf of EDF energy. He is 18-months into the job on what is called the Positive Outcome project.

He said: “I feel very lucky to get this chance. I made a mistake which I regret everyday. But I need to get on with my life for my own sake and also for my girlfriend and our children.

“But it is difficult for people coming out of prison. I can see how, if somebody is unable to find work, it can be difficult for them to stay out of trouble.”

The early signs are that Michael is doing well and is on course to succeed in putting his part behind him. Kevin Cooke, area manager with Morrison Utility Services, said: “His job requires comprehensive knowledge and a high level of skill as jobs vary on a daily basis. Michael's position in one of these teams shows the rapid progress he has made since beginning his career with us.”

Jayne Barnard, BITC's project manager the for Business Action on Employability and Skills scheme, added: “Michael is a prime example of an ex-offender who has put his past behind him.

“With the help and support of BITC, EDF Energy and Morrison Utility Services he can hold his head up and feel proud to be involved in this initiative, to show all employers that people do indeed change and do indeed learn from their mistakes.

“We need more open minded companies like EDF Energy and Morrison Utility Services to offer placements and to give everyone a fair chance.”

Companies wishing to take part in the project should contact Jayne Barnard on 01502 583939 or 07786987874. For more information visit www.BITC.org.uk

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