Don’t turn around,’ Leigh whispered to himself. ‘It’s the worst day of your life; your sentencing. Whatever you do, don’t turn around when the sentence is handed down.’ That’s what his friend had told him.
But in that moment, as he was convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to prison, it was all he wanted to do. And as he glanced over his shoulder, he knew instantly why his friend had warned him not to. Tears, heartbreak, fear. That’s what could see in the eyes of his mother and his girlfriend.
Leigh’s life began in Germany, where his father served in the British Army. At the age of 2, Leigh’s family migrated to Australia.
He was 12 when his parents separated and it wasn’t until many years later that he realised the impact this would have on his life. Leigh fell out of contact with his dad and missed the insights and leadership that a father can offer.
When he was 15, a friend invited Leigh to a Youth Alive event where he gave his life to the Lord. But soon, that pledge was just a memory.
Leigh was competing in Ten Pin Bowling for Australia. His mother couldn’t afford to support him financially so he took on a job at McDonalds, eventually becoming a store manager at the age of 20.
That’s when he decided to move out of home and found himself caught up in the clubbing scene; partying and getting into drugs. He started selling drugs initially just to support his own habit. A McDonalds wage didn’t pay enough for that. But over time, he turned drugs into a profitable business. This meant keeping secrets and relationships he had once held close were lost as a result. Including his relationship with his mother.
Leigh bought a house and he was living the high life, until one day, he was surprised by a police raid. In an instant, life as he knew it was over.
His mother had always instilled in him a good moral compass and work ethic. Leigh was instantly remorseful and attended drug counselling while he awaited sentencing. A 2 year court case took its toll and Leigh found himself suffering depression before he was finally sentenced.
Imprisoned at WACOL, Leigh took up work in the prison laundry. Later, he moved to Palen Creek and with just 9 weeks to go on his sentence, Leigh received devastating news. His long suffering girlfriend had broken up with him. It was the lowest point on his journey to redemption. Leigh felt like he’d lost everything. Devastated and emotionally exhausted, tears burned down his cheeks. An older prisoner warned him: ‘If the guards see you crying, they’ll move you to maximum security.’ There’s no telling what a highly emotional inmate is capable of.
That Sunday, Leigh’s visitors didn’t turn up and he was at an all-time low. There were no drugs or parties to distract him from the emptiness he felt inside. Somehow, as if driven by a force not his own, he got up out of bed and walked through the prison to the guards and said ‘I need to see a chaplain.’
Just sitting and talking to IOPC’s David and John, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders and a peace started to warm his heart again – the same peace he had felt when he gave his life to the Lord at 15.
Leigh attended church services every night for the next 9 weeks and even started writing to his dad again.
Leigh was released from prison on Christmas Eve 2015.
Looking back on his time in prison, Leigh realised he had felt the hand of God over him the whole time. From his first night in prison, when he shared a cell with a wise old inmate who gave him sage advice to prepare him for prison life, to the other inmates he found around him and the Prison Chaplains who had re-introduced him to Jesus and to true freedom. Leigh realised that although he had given up on God almost as soon as he’d given Him his life, God had never given up on him. Not even for a moment.
On his release, it didn’t take long to get back into some of his old habits. Reconnecting with his partying friends made it all too easy to drift. But this time was different. Leigh saw this life for the empty shell that it was. It didn’t hold hope or a future for him.
So, he started going to church and embraced his new life of hope and faith.
Leigh has recently been baptised at Beenleigh Baptist Church, he’s studying at the Australian Institute of Fitness to become a personal trainer and he’s engaged to a lovely girl.
Leigh’s struggles trying to re-integrate into society after prison have inspired him to develop a program to help other ex-inmates, along with fellow ex-prisoner Gerard (we will be sharing Gerard’s story in the next edition of the Inside Story). He plans to use the skills he gains from studying Personal Training to offer a holistic approach to healing mind, body and soul.
As Leigh looks to the future and starting his own family, it has led to much reflection on his relationship with his own father. Leigh’s heart is to inspire fathers to understand and appreciate the vital role they play in the lives of their children.
(Leigh’s real name has been suppressed to protect his identity)