Michael joined Switchback 2 years ago aged 29, after serving eight months in HMP Pentonville. He moved on from Switchback in 2018, working for a year at street food business Morty & Bob’s and now works full time in the kitchen at the Café from Crisis, helping to train new Switchback Trainees on their journey away from crime. Michael is also now a member of Switchback’s Experts by Experience Board.
“When I went to prison I found out most people who commit crime are from broken homes. I wasn’t. My family is close close. Like the Mitchell Family off EastEnders, only with love and togetherness. I have four brothers, three elder, and one younger, and Dad had 9 brothers and three sisters. It’s a very masculine family and we drive my Mum crazy.
Dad, who looks Bengali but talks like a proper cockney, is a long-distance lorry driver. I guess my problem’s always been that he’s always worked to the point where we don’t see him, often seven days a week. My parents worked so hard, 10 times harder than the average family, and we’d still just be scraping by. Half the time I used to take my mum off the sofa because she’s fell asleep on the sofa watching TV.
We grew up on a big estate in Bow. It was surrounded by poverty and people on drugs turned it into drug blocks. People like my parents didn’t want their kids growing up around that but couldn’t afford to get out.
I never really did crime, as a kid, just little things in my teens. We were just pals messing about: you can’t play 11-a-side football unless there’s a few of you. It was mostly football, skateboards, but there’d always be one lad that pushes towards something else, like, ‘I’m bored playing football, let’s go throw an egg.’ It was just stupid: we were only looking for a kick, for some adrenaline.
I was 22 when I found out Chloe was pregnant. Ours wasn’t a love story. It was a fling. But it was a joint choice to keep the baby: we thought we could do this. Neither of us wanted to think about the alternative. But when she was pregnant, we both got real sad. We used to row constantly, I stopped going to work. We were going through some mad crazy shit.
Then the baby was born. I’d be round at her house after work, and she used to bring the baby to my house on weekends.
Then she got back together with her ex-partner and everything changed. It wasn’t amicable. I had to go to court to try to see my daughter. I was told I wouldn’t get legal aid. The court fees added up.
Depression wasn’t the word. I was past depression, I was next level. I was suicidal. I went to see my doctor saying I don’t want to do it anymore. Some other man is bringing up my daughter.
This stuff is painful for anyone, but especially if you come from a community, a family, like mine: my parents have been married for 40 years. My brothers are all married with kids. 10 uncles. I’m the only one that’s not with the mother of their child.
The legal thing went on for two years. It set me back a lot of money. Money I couldn’t imagine getting without committing a crime. And after about a year I finally started to see my daughter. I was starting to get my joy back.
But then I got caught, and I got a two–year sentence.
My nan, my mum’s mum, died while I was in prison. I couldn’t go to her funeral. That’s a pain that can’t be described. I always thought it if I was ever in that situation my brothers would be there for me, but they didn’t visit me in prison.
When I came out, I was told the mother of your child doesn’t want to be associated with you anymore. That could have turned me straight back down the road, but in prison, I spent some time reflecting. I knew that I’ve got to stop doing this. Imagine my daughter going to school saying ‘Daddy’s in prison’.
Things started to change when I met Kat, my Switchback Mentor, and she says, ‘How are you?’
How am I? Bloody hell no-one’s asked me that in a long time. I’m terrible. No-one’s going to help me with the money to pay my solicitor. No-one’s going to give me these jobs. I’ve lost the security I used to have with my brothers, and I can’t burden my younger brother or Mum with this stuff.
But Kat just got me. I don’t know how she got through to me, I really don’t. She became like the sister I never had.
I’ve worked with other charities before, growing up, but I never wanted the stigma of ‘needing help.’
But you come to a place like Switchback and it’s different. Little office near Spitalfields; nothing fancy about it. It’s like you’re at home. And their only focus is right here, right now, facilitating you. And you’re allowed to open up at a rate that works for you. You’re a person, not a plan. In terms of mentoring they just go beyond. It ain’t just a job. You can talk to them about anything.
We’re not just criminals: my name’s Michael, and there’s another Trainee, Jerome. We’re totally different people. If you want to ‘rehabilitate’ us you might have to break through to me in a totally different way to Jerome. That’s what Switchback get. They’ll try different things to try to break through to people, whether it’s a poetry class or a gardening class. I’m a big cockney man from the east end and I’m there in this gardening class like, ‘where’s the tulips Sandra?!’ It’s like a breath of fresh air.
People like me have been let down so many times, been bounced around by charities sending you to different places on little courses. The difference here is that everything is linked: every course they put me on, every job trial, they’ve all been associated with Switchback: they all know what Switchback is about. What we’re about.
Other charities want to put you straight into work, with no hope of a career. They’ll say, ‘Let’s get you this, let’s get you that.’ I’d tell them I don’t want to do that, I want to start moving up a ladder and to progress. I don’t want a job where there’s no ladder.
I think people re-offend so fast because they get shoehorned into doing something that they don’t want to be doing. ‘Let’s put Marky in a dead-end job every day for 2 months.’ He’ll drive himself completely insane doing that every day.
To be honest I don’t know where I’d be without Switchback. They restored a lot of things. My faith, my trust, my mentality. Even now, sometimes I get close to mini breakdowns, but I just get over it quicker.
I wish I had this mentality 10 years ago. I’m glad I’ve got it now. There’s so much to look forward to now. I used to see the world in a totally different light. I used to see it in black and grey, now I see it in colours.”