An ex-prisoner who journeyed into the hell of high security prisons and mental institutions wants the world to share the moment he started his new life.
Richard Vernalls (38) is the first to admit he has been jailed for “very bad” crimes, but says his life may have been very different if his chronic anxiety disorder had been diagnosed at the outset and he had been given the treatment he needed.
Instead he turned to alcohol to ease the pain of his illness and began committing crimes as a result.
Richard said: “I just spiralled out of control.”
“I was mentally unwell.
“People didn’t know what the hell to do with me. I was passed from pillar to post. I have been in ten mental institutions and God knows how many prisons.”
Yesterday he was looking forward to putting it all behind him and continuing his new career as a hairdresser – and says he owes his new life to the probation service.
Mr Vernalls invited the Free Press along to the Probation Office in Spalding so he could make a public thank you to the service he says has helped him start again.
He said: “They have got me back to the man I was. I had become very institutionalised. They have helped me integrate back into the community.”
Richard also praised police for their understanding and his GP.
He was a hardworking lorry driver and the sort of man who was the first to help anyone.
“I just got out of bed one day and started to shake, went to the doctors and was told ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’,” he said. “Basically my trouble started through alcohol. I used alcohol to stop my physical pain.”
He began committing public order offences and these became more serious – with Richard getting involved in a nightclub dispute and setting out to “blow the doorman up”.
He said: “I took butane gas, an axe and a crowbar – and I got tasered.”
Richard made attempts on his own life while in prison, but after 18 months’ probation has begun to discover the man he was before his troubles began 13 years ago.
He’s trained as a hairdresser at his own expense and is now fully qualified.
Richard says: “I have never been a bad man. I have been a man that’s been unwell, that needed help.
“If I had been treated at the beginning for my illness, properly, I believe my life would not have ended up this way.”
Police inspector Mike Burnett said: “We are delighted Richard has managed to turn his life around and credit to Richard for his determination and hard work in improving his quality of life.
“A big thank you to our partners and local neighbourhood beat teams – without their assistance and perseverance we would not be in the position to celebrate and share in Richard’s success.”
MP John Hayes championed the rehabilitation of offenders when Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning.
He said: “Serious crime can never be excused, but this story shows how even someone with a long track record of doing wrong can get it right in the end with the support and care of professionals and those around them.
“By rehabilitating former criminals and putting them on the right road they can abandon a life of crime.
“In this case, Richard’s rehabilitation has enabled him to get a job and I wish him good luck with that and in the future, and I would like to thank everyone who has helped him.”