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18 Sep 2014
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Leaving A Life Of Crime

Against the odds, Michael Groce has turned his life round...

In and out of care from the age of six, Michael Groce was always in trouble with the authorities - involvement with drugs and gangs led to fifty convictions and fifteen spells in jail. One night, Michael's house was raided by the police, a gun went off, and Michael fled into hiding for 3 days. Whilst there, he turned the TV, "I saw my grandmother - she was crying, And then I saw the news flash - my mother had been shot - I was numb." Cherry, Michael's mother had been accidently shot and paralysed when the police raided her flat in search of her son; it was the incident which sparked the Brixton riots.

The shooting pulled the family closer together. Michael began to write poetry; one poem, to his mother, was published in The Voice, "I just wanted to say sorry to her..." says Michael, but he was still involved in crime. It was only after a two years jail that he really began to take stock of his life and what he wanted to make of his future. A youth worker, Anne, got him into playing basketball with the local kids - Michael loved it. Eventually he persuaded local shopkeepers to deal with the problem of shoplifting kids, by donating food and drink to him, which he then took along to a football club on Saturday to share out with those who took part. It worked well; now three to four hundred children are involved in the weekend football, and the shopkeepers are happy.

But Michael still hadn't quite given up his involvement in crime. A child's comment helped him change his life, "I was saying to a child, 'Come on - you can do it - you can change!' He said to me, 'But you haven't. You're still the same person." Michael realised he had to live by example, and went back to his poetry. He struggled for months to give up and get over his cocaine habit, and wrote about his struggle in his poem 'Charlie Prayer.' The poem was published, and article written, and Michael turned his corner.

That was 5 years ago. Michael's since founded a magazine, 'In Yer Face!' encouraging the local kids to express their feelings through their art or their writing. It's developed well in the last two years, with schools all over the country signing up to workshops, and Michael's poetry reading is taking him on tours aborad. "I used to hate going without money," Michael concludes, "but poetry made me realise that it's not about the money, it's about doing something for yourself - I've enjoyed the journey."

Have you, or do you know someone who's turned their life around?
What or who inspired you to change your behaviour?
Who, of your most important relationships, has this affected most, and why?

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