34 – HMP YOI (1989)

In November 1989 the Ford Motor Company buys Jaguar, the Church of England allows women to be ordained, the Berlin Wall comes down, ambulances are on strike with the military filling in, the House of Commons is televised for the first time, Nigel Martyn is transferred from Crystal Palace to Bristol Rovers for a million pounds – and I am in Castle Huntly Young Offenders Institution.

castle huntly

I’m 19 years old, and I’m beginning two twelve-month concurrent sentences for “Possession with the intent to supply drugs” under Section 4 and 5(3) Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971.

As far as prisons go, Castle Huntly was quite tame. It was a ‘D’ Category YOI, which meant less serious offenders… (I don’t know how they work out the criteria for “less serious” as there were some serious guys in there). It was also set in an old castle apparently originally built in 1452.

But it was STILL a prison. The “cell” doors still locked from the outside at night, (you had your own key in the daytime).

Sky had not made its way yet unless you include the outside sky.

I was in Phase 2, in a wee corridor and this was unlike Polmont YOI. Very different! First of all – I HAD MY OWN KEY! Now I could not use it to get OUT of my room, but during the day I could lock and unlock my own door. Think about that.

At the start, I got my head down and got on with it. The regime in there was a lot more relaxed, and it was not very often that you were actually locked up in your “room”.
There was a very large training centre teaching many trades. I went for Light Vehicle Mechanics (stop sniggering those that know my history with cars), and I actually enjoyed it. I am the proud owner of SCOTVEC certificates in Light Vehicle Mechanics and Brakes and Steering.

It was also whilst in Castle Huntly that I continued the process of getting my teeth sorted out, (or taken out as the case was). I am telling you there is nothing quite like a prison dentist for multiple extractions. I pray none of you gets to experience it.

Memories are not the brightest from those early days in Castle Huntly, more because of the sameness of each one melted into the next. There were a lot of drugs in there, but at the start, I really was not interested. My head was down, my books were out, and each evening, like all the other guys, I listened to Scottie McLue on Radio Tay with his “Feelings” programme. Most nights there would be a request for one of the guys from a girlfriend. “To Rab in Longforgan” Scottie would always read out, Longforgan was the closest village to Castle Huntly. I am sure anyone living near the area used to wonder who all these young guys were, as the village was not big enough.

There were many personalities there. Many wannabe gangsters. One of the worst places in Scotland to be was in a Young Offenders Institution with a bunch of teenage boys wanting to show how hard they were. I just wanted to keep my head down, put the full stop on my sentence and get out. Even I never managed to get through it unscathed and had several run-ins and episodes, for another time though.

There was also some heartbreak. I got on well with a couple of guys from Edinburgh, Jay and Fin – even when gang violence broke out between the Glasgow and Edinburgh guys, I pretty much stayed out of it. These guys were my mates, and by that time they got most of the drugs. Fin was a tall guy and spent most of his time in the gym. He could handle himself well, and until the fighting broke out, he never leant on anyone. Jay was a good guy, cousin of Fin, and sort of relied on his cousin’s reputation. Jay was always the one more likely to cause trouble.

Anyway, THE DAY AFTER Fin and Jay were liberated (finished their sentence) they were found slumped in an Edinburgh pharmacy having broken in and overdosed on Temazepam. That was hard. That was the life we were in.

Ok scene set – let’s to the point of this post – which is Chic. Chic was from Ayrshire, a young guy who never took nonsense from anyone, but never tried to give it either. There was always a quiet menace under the surface with Chic though. An understated warning to anyone who maybe thought of trying to take advantage of his youth (yeah I know we were all young, but that’s not how it worked). There were also many laughs. He was a couple of years younger than me. It was not a big jail so we talked a fair bit. as you do.

When I left Castle Huntly YOI in August 1990, I often wondered what happened to a lot of the guys, Chic was one I wondered about.

Fast Forward to 2010. I am at an AoG Scottish Regional Day in Perth. I am there with Ken Morris, Pastor and pioneer at that time of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Hamilton. (Ken and his wife Jeannie will be with us at Easterhouse Community Church on Sunday evening 3rd June) Tracy and I had only moved back to Scotland a few months previously and found ourselves making the long(ish) journey from Bridge of Weir, where we lived, to Hamilton every Sunday to take part in their services. Ever since our first Sunday in Scotland when we had gone there at the suggestion of Gary Davidson (funnily enough, Gary and his wife Wilma will be with us at ECC Sunday evening 10th June), we had felt at home there. Ken and Jeannie took us for Sunday lunch and we stayed. Ken took me under his wing and walked with me for that part of my journey. This day, he had decided it was time to introduce me to the other Scottish AoG ministers and get them to pray for me. In the gathering that day, unbeknownst to me at the time, was Chic. He had got saved and was helping Arthur O’Malley in Elderslie church.

As we sat down to lunch later, I had ended up sitting next to Charles, quite by accident and could not help but notice how familiar he looked. In this room, surrounded by those who had faithfully served the purposes of Christ on the walls and on the seats, the most remarkable meeting was taken place. We both recognized each other. We were both astonished that Christ had redeemed us. I went away that day wondering and marvelling at the ways of God. If He could save Chic, he could save anyone.

Broken chains ayr.png

I had the privilege of sharing on behalf of Charles and Arthur in the Elderslie outreach a couple of times, and Charles and I have kept in regular contact, swapping stories of God’s faithfulness. A few weeks ago, after several attempts at trying to make it happen, Charles had invited me down to Broken Chains Ayr to share at their meeting. Off I went on a sunny afternoon, in between both Easterhouse Community Church services, to Holy Trinity Church, Fullerton Street Ayr.

I made my way to the meeting and had a great time chatting with volunteers and those who had come along for the meeting. There was a sense of anticipation amongst these guys. They expected Christ to transform lives.

The time for the meeting had arrived, the praise band, led by John Martin, started up and wow, it was as if heaven descended into the room.

The guys were excellent and really helped lift a sense of awe and wonder over Jesus.

Charles got up then, gave the announcements and introduced me. It was astonishing. I was transported back to Castle Huntly. The sense of helplessness and hopelessness I felt in those days. That nothing could ever really change and that I was resigned to my fate. At that moment the words of Jesus to His disciples, when He told them that there were many more things He wanted to tell them but at that time they were not able to bear them came to mind. In Castle Huntly, the St Andrew’s University Christian Union would come in every second Sunday. We used to go along just to get out of our “rooms”. We would slag them and joke around, but they were never phased by us. They would smile back, offer to pray for us, tell us God loved us and keep coming back. Man, many times since becoming a Christian I have thought of those guys. The amazing testimony that they possessed just by their willingness and eagerness to share the love of Christ. I would love to go back there one day, and share with the current group the legacy they inherit.

If Charles and I were to be told then that 28 years later we would be in the position we were in now, both of us ministers for the Gospel ministering to those as helpless and hopeless as we were on those days – it would have been too overwhelming; too hard to take in. Instead, God in His grace and mercy took us on our journeys one step at a time, one day at a time. A lot of it, due to our decisions, was downhill to that good old place called Rock Bottom. But that is where Christ was waiting on us. For me, this was a special moment. As one of Charles’ oldest friend’s came forward for ministry at the end of the meeting, it was a privilege to be able to speak hope into his life, as many had done for us, and to pray with him as many had done for us. Al the while standing side by side with Charles, the guy I used to stand beside in a coffee queue in a Young Offenders’ Institution.

As I drove back to Easterhouse after the service, it was safe in the knowledge that God really could do the impossible all I had to do was trust him.

Isn’t God good?

Myself and Charles after Broken Chains Ayr meeting

This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

Alternatively, you can visit the Media Links page and see a short visit done by BBC Radio Scotland for an interview I did there.

If you or someone you love, needs help with the Christian response to addiction, or if you would just like to know more or need hope, please click on one of the following:

The Haven
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Street Connect
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church
Stuart Patterson