“I would tell myself not to give up hope. I would tell myself to be brave and stay strong as there are people out there who will believe in me and help me through hard times. I am one of these people and I made it through.” 

When Virgin Unite asked me to blog about my work at Igniting Change and how we as a not-for-profit work with young men in prisons only one thing came to mind: it needed to come from the horse’s mouth. So I called a friend of mine named Roger Antochi. I invited him to share in his own words about his life before, during and after prison.  

His messages are clear; the importance of positive parenting, the positive role mentors can have on one's life and the ability to turn even the most horrible of situations around – this is what Roger has done. I am proud to work closely with him, but even prouder to call him my friend.   

Richard attending one of Igniting Change’s visits to meet the people, when Roger was still a prisoner in 2007.

Looking back now with the knowledge and understanding I have about life, I believe that I was born in a situation to fail. Growing up, I never had positive role models in life. my mother was unfit to look after me due to battling with her own demons in the form of addiction issues and I never really got an opportunity to know my father properly as he was always in prison.  

After leaving home aged just 14 years old, I was homeless and always searching to find somewhere that I fitted. 

The sad part was that when I was searching for this sense of belonging, I found it in negative peers which lead to a life of heartache and pain through drug addiction and offending behaviour. 

The drug addiction started as something of a coping strategy because I could not deal with the reality of my life, but it soon developed into a full on battle with addiction, which lead to me doing crime to support my addiction.

This behaviour led to my arrest and when in prison a second time, I was sent to the youth unit at Port Phillip Prison. Here I was given the opportunity to be supported by a mentor who completely helped change the direction of my life. He had been an inmate himself and I respected the fact that he genuinely cared about me and wanted me to understand that I had hope for a more positive future. 

Whilst at the youth unit, I participated in rehabilitation programmes which gave me a clear understanding of the person I was and what I needed to do to fix all the negative things in my life. The programs gave me hope. Hope in a better future and hope in actually having a chance in life. 

Last but definitely not least, was the opportunity to give back to society in a positive way. I became a mentor myself whilst I was still in custody – supporting 35 young men on a day-to-day basis through a range of complex issues. This opportunity, as well as driving the Doin Time program as the MD of the Doin Time Business was brilliant, and allowed us to raise significant funds for charity.

"The programs gave me hope. Hope in a better future and hope in actually having a chance in life."

We chose charities within the community and the whole programme gave me the opportunity to work alongside some amazing people through fantastic organisations like Igniting Change, Whitelion, Virgin and Toll. 

The title of ex-offender will live with me for the rest of my life.  The impact of this to me seemed very negative, especially at the start, so I have always continued to work very hard in proving to people that I have become a better person. I do this by giving back to society in a positive way and by supporting people – especially “young people” – in not making the same mistakes I have made in my life. 

But I work to support those who have made some mistakes in life too, and want to help them get back on track and became positive members of society.

The title of ex-offender is not something I’m proud of, but at the same time, the people I care for and support, know that I have experienced a negative lifestyle in the past and have chosen to change my life around. This in turn gives other ex-offenders hope that they can also do the same.

The thing that I am most proud of is the fact that I have kept my drive and passion to continue to support people who are going through a tough time in their lives and I have supported hundreds of people to date and want to continue doing so for the rest of my life!

I am now a qualified Alcohol and Other Drugs/Mental Health Worker, Community Health and Welfare Worker, Youth Worker and Teacher as I teach within the Community Welfare and Health Sector part-time. Having seen firsthand, how much of a positive difference Whitelion is making to the lives of young people, I am proud to be working for such an amazing organisation.“ 

When I asked Roger what would you tell your 10-year-old self – his response was, 

“I would tell myself not to give up hope and encourage myself to make something positive out of any bad situation I might be in.  I would tell myself to be brave and stay strong as there are people out there who will believe in me and help me through hard times. I am one of these people and I made it through.” 

Roger is incredibly courageous and now authentically helping others. I remember so well nine years ago him saying to me, 

“The first time anyone had ever asked me how I was, was when I arrived in Port Phillip Prison Youth Unit."

I encourage more businesses to see the person, not the label CRIMINAL and to follow Toll and Virgin’s lead in employing young men like Roger who, once given a chance, have so much to contribute.

– This is a guest blog by Jane Tewson and Roger Antochi, as part of our rehabilitation series. 

Read more from our rehabilitation series by clicking on the links below:

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.