Chaz was sexually abused as a child, addicted to heroin and has spent twelve years in prison. Yet thanks to a fresh start at a Christian housing project, he has turned his life around. Now, he’s doing the same for others
I only really know two things about my dad. Number one, he was a heroin addict. Number two, my mum left him when I was one.
When my parents met, dad was in recovery, but he ended up going back to the drugs. He was taking so much that he was injecting into his feet and one day, as I was crawling across the floor, I crawled onto his foot. He picked me up and threw me on the sofa. So my mum made the decision, right there and then, to go it alone.
We lived in a two bedroom terraced house. We didn’t have a bathroom. We had an outside toilet and a shower in my bedroom. So growing up was very hard.
Mum always wanted to be loved, but she used to put her trust in the wrong men. She used to take me shoplifting. We were often in and out of the police station.
Eventually, Mum thought she had found Mr Right and I had a father figure for a while. But then we went on holiday to Cornwall and, as I came back from the swimming pool one day, I could hear pots and pans being thrown about. As I walked into the chalet, he was walking out. My mum was screaming at him, saying: “Tell him! Tell him why you’re leaving!” That night, my mum asked me to do something, I can’t remember what it was but I didn’t want to do it. She grabbed me and said: “You know, I hate you. It’s all your fault. I wish you’d never been born.” I was seven at the time. And that stuck with me.
I remember coming back home and trying to go to school, but I just couldn’t function. I said to myself: I will never trust anyone in my life again. The barriers went up. I got involved with the wrong people at school, shoplifting and that kind of stuff.
A descent into madness
I started smoking cannabis. At first it was escapism. It helped me to escape school, the suffering and pain of what was happening at home. I was sexually abused by a family member and that brought a whole lot of trauma into my life.
My escapism was into the world of crime. It escalated from shoplifting to stealing cars.
I started doing amphetamines. At about 18, I got involved with heroin and it was a downhill spiral from there. I started doing armed robberies. From the age of 16, I have spent 12 years in and out of prison. I’m not proud of it. I am totally ashamed. But this is how my life was.
At one point, serving a six year prison sentence, I thought about ending my life. I tried everything within myself to change. I did a drug rehab programme. I tried everything I could to get parole. When I came to the halfway mark in my sentence, I got knocked back, but my personal officer said: "I see a change in you. I can see you’re trying to turn your life around. I am going to give you a chance.”
I said: “You don’t know what I’ve done. I’ve put guns to people’s heads…” He said: “No matter what you’ve done, Jesus has paid the price.
I ended up going to a D-category open prison. But with the freedom came more drugs and I ended up addicted to heroin again. I remember thinking: Why am I alive? Why can’t I change? I heard a voice within me say: This is what you are, this is all you’re ever going to be. And so I ran across the field, broke into a garage and stole a car. I thought: To hell with it. I’ve tried my best, I can’t do this.
All of a sudden, an image of my son, who had been born just before I received my six year sentence, came into my mind. I decided to go to my ex-partner’s house to see him. She opened the door and started screaming and shouting at me, threatening to call the police. But, eventually, she calmed down and let me in. She said: “I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve become a Christian.” I nearly fell off my chair! I’d known her all my life. We’d done drugs together, committed crimes together. And I started to mock her, saying: “If there’s a God, why is the world like it is? Why is there so much suffering and pain?” But what she said to me shook me to the core.
She said: “Chaz, I heard this story in church about the wise and the foolish builders. Right now, you’re the foolish builder. You’re trying to build your life upon all these worldly things, like money, and trying to fill the emptiness. But the wise builder is the person who builds his house – his life - upon the rock.” And she said to me: “I want to tell you about that rock. Jesus is real, and Jesus loves you. If you will open up your heart to him, he will transform your life.”
She went to bed and I slept on the sofa. That night, I wrestled with God. I started to think about what scientists say, that we were created from the Big Bang, that atoms and molecules had come together to create us, and I just didn’t buy that. Nothing can’t create something. And I just didn’t buy that we’d evolved from animals either. I thought: what if God is real and he can help me change my life?
Trying to change
We called the police the next morning and I handed myself in.
Back in prison, I decided to put my name down for chapel. I’d been to chapel many times to get drugs from other wings, but this time I was going for a different reason. As I walked up the chapel steps, a wave of emotion came over me and I started to cry. It wasn’t sadness, it was like a cleansing; like all the hurt and pain of what I’d gone through was coming out of me. As they started to sing, I started to sob uncontrollably. Then, all of a sudden, this man stood up and said: “I’ve got a message for someone here today from God. God’s told me that if you will open up your heart to him, he will transform your life and he will heal you.” It was the exact same words my ex-girlfriend had said the night before. The man came over to me at the end of the service and said: “Son, do you want all your suffering and pain to end? And I said: “You don’t know what I’ve done. I’ve put guns to people’s heads…” He said: “No matter what you’ve done, Jesus has paid the price. Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart?” I said: “Yes!” I said the sinner’s prayer; I didn’t see any big blinding light but I knew something in my heart had changed.
I went back to my cell and you know, in prison cells, there’s always a Gideon’s Bible. And I went through the index and it lead me to Psalm 66:17-19: “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” And that was God telling me, right there, that he had heard my prayer and was willing to forgive me.
From that moment on, as a Christian, I tried everything within myself to turn my life around. I got out of prison but truthfully though, I made some mistakes. I ended up back on drugs and back in prison. I hit rock bottom. I remember crying out to God in my prison cell, saying: “God, you need to take this from here. I’ve tried everything within my own strength to turn my life around.” And all of a sudden, the presence of God came into the room. And I heard a voice within my heart saying: “Son, there’s going to come a time when this is going to be a thing of the past. There is going to come a time when I’m going to use what you’ve been through to minister to other people in the same situation. There’s going to come a time when you’re going to be married. There’s going to come a time when you’re going to have children and you’re going to become on fire for me.” That night, I had the best night sleep that I’d ever had.
She said: "Jesus is real, and Jesus loves you." It shook me to the core
In the morning, I woke up, and I knew that God had spoken to me through his Spirit but I needed confirmation. I turned to my Bible and opened it at Genesis 12:1: ‘The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’” As I read that, I knew that I’d been going to the same places, again and again. Everyone knew me as a criminal and a drug addict. And I knew that God was calling me out of that. I ended the relationship I was in and I just said: “Look, I’m not coming back. I don’t know what’s happening but I don’t want this life any more. I’m a Christian, and I just need to follow God.”
A fresh start
Two weeks later, the prison chaplain came to me. My prison and probation officer had found me a place at a Christian residential project called The Lighthouse, one of Green Pastures’ partners. I said: “I don’t care where it is, I want to go.” On 12 May 2012, I got out of prison with nothing more than the clothes on my back and the promises of God in my heart, and that’s all I needed.
I went to The Lighthouse and I just got involved. It was a Christian organisation, helping people like me who came from addiction, from a life of crime. I got involved in church. The local church helped me: I went there every day to volunteer. We went on mission to Romania, driving 4,500 miles in a minibus. I got to share my testimony. I got to help rebuild people’s houses. It really changed my perspective on life. I saw people in Romania struggling for food, with no central heating and here I was, a drug addict, pumping all sorts of stuff into my body. I came back from mission and Darren Jones, the manager at Lighthouse said: “I see something in you. I see a support worker. You have compassion, you have empathy. You would be really good at helping people who have had the same sort of life as you’ve had. I believe God is calling you into this ministry.”
So I started volunteering. And on 18 November 2012, I got my first ever job as a support worker. It was 16 hours a week. I remember getting my first paycheck. I sat there and cried. Darren said: “Sorry, I know it’s not a lot of money.” I said: “You don’t understand, this is not about the money, this is the first honest paycheck I have ever earned. It means more to me than anything in the world.”
As time went on, God blessed me, put me into my own accommodation, built me up. I became a senior support worker. I’ve shared my story in schools and in a book. God has been so good to me.
Paying it forwards
In 2018, I got the opportunity to become manager of Lighthouse Homes Brimington. Then, this year, I had the amazing privilege of becoming the general manager of Green Pastures’ Mattersey Hall Training Centre. We provide training and education for people in health and social care, training them to become support workers. But they also get Bible teaching, helping them to understand who God is, within a supported accommodation structure.
I used to think that because of my criminal record, I would never get a job. I used to think: What’s the point, because I’m never going to get employed anyway. It’s an absolute load of rubbish. There are loads of Christian ministries looking for people that have the qualifications, but also that have the passion and the desire to follow God and honour and glorify him.
We believe that there is a heritage within Mattersey and we believe that God is wanting us to raise up a standard, giving people that have come from a difficult background the education and the training that they need. We’ve got 12 people with us at the minute. They are hungry for the Word of God. These are guys that have done rehab, or been in supported accommodation for a while and they’re asking: What’s next? I believe Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But how do we follow that? How do we get into that? How do we learn the scriptures? These are all things that we teach at Mattersey. We are training people and equipping them with the health and social care NVQ, but we’re also teaching them the Bible and how to be an evangelist.
We want to build these guys up and then release them into internships or job opportunities. Because whenever we’re looking to employ someone, we’re looking for that person who is Spirit-filled, that has empathy and compassion, but that also has an understanding of trauma, abuse, addiction - and finding those people in the everyday world is hard. If we can train these guys up, who may not have had the right education – because of abuse or whatever - and if we can build them up, they can become support workers. You know, I’m an example of that. And it’s an honour to be used by God.
Chaz was speaking to Emma Fowle. To find out more about Green Pastures’ Mattersey Hall Training Centre, visit greenpastures.net/mattersey