Mark’s Amazing Story
Imagine you’d grown up as the son of a violent, alcoholic father and a disengaged and devoutly religious mother. You had been abused from a young age. As a frightened eight-year old, you began to drink alcohol to numb the pain. By the age of 11, you were taking Heroin. As a teenager, your Heroin addiction led you into a life of crime and, by the age of 17, you were locked up in a young offenders’ institution and, later, prison.
It is a familiar story and one which, all too often, has tragic outcomes. But, the story I heard this week from Mark Johnson is altogether different. Mark admits “I should be dead” but, instead, he has become one of the most influential figures in the criminal justice reform movement and runs a hugely successful charity that helps offenders. He is a former adviser to government, has been endorsed by HRH The Prince of Wales and won the Pride of Britain Award. His autobiography, Wasted, is a best-seller that has been translated into 20 languages. When Mark wrote it, he received the highest ever advance for an unknown author.
Some of the things that Mark said during our interview were startling. He admits that many of the skills he learned living on the street came in useful when it comes to business and he explained how, before starting his charity, he had built up a very successful arboriculture business, employing ex-offenders. I was particularly intrigued by this comment:
“Five years after I’d got myself off the streets of London and built up my business, I’d got two houses, a nice car, a fleet of lorries and I was employing lots of people. But, I realised that, inside, I felt the same as I had done when I was sleeping in doorways.
“I thought it was all about making money. It wasn’t. I felt empty, unfulfilled. This wasn’t what I was here to do.”
Unlike so many of us who find ourselves trapped in a job that leaves us unfulfilled, Mark had the guts to walk away from a successful business and do something much more rewarding with his life. He started User Voice, which has become an incredibly successful charity, helping offenders and ex-offenders. His is a great story and I’m looking forward to telling it. It should be on the site in the next couple of weeks.
It has been a wonderful week for me. Just over a week after Uplifting Stories went live, I’ve watched it climb higher up the Google rankings. Thanks to everyone who’s visited and shared the site so far. I have had some great feedback from friends and strangers and am continuing to try and line up interesting interviews so I can add more stories to the site. As ever, do let me know if you hear of any good ones.
Also this week, I finally had the opportunity to meet up with film-maker, John Thomson. It was odd because we had talked on the phone and he had told me his moving story of recovery from alcoholism, so I already felt as though I knew him well, even though we’d never met. We met at Bristol Temple Meads and, tucked away behind the modern office blocks, John showed me the Knights Templar temple, hidden inside the ruins of a church, which gives Temple Meads its name. It was a fabulously sunny day and we walked to the harbour to watch the boats and drink Earl Grey tea in the Arnolfini Gallery. John and I hit it off really well and I’m pleased to say we’re going to be working together on a pilot TV programme for Uplifting Stories. John is a highly experienced film maker and former Scottish TV producer.
I wonder if any of the mainstream channels will screen it. What do you think? It would be great to see some uplifting stuff on TV for a change, wouldn’t it? I’ll keep you posted how it goes.
I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine and the long-awaited Murray victory.