‘Four wee letters can change lives’

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Derry mother Mary* raised her sons to be respectful, well behaved and with ambition to do well in life.

But when her youngest son, James, was 17 years-old he fell in with the ‘wrong crowd’ and Mary’s family was tipped into a living nightmare where she no longer knew if or when her son would come home or what state he would be in when he did eventually stumble through the door into the family home.

“If you challenged him, he would shout back - he wouldn’t listen to me or his father. He was agitated and angry.”

Things took a more sinister time on one occasion Mary will never forget as she was preparing dinner for the family. “I was talking to him and I said something. I wasn’t cheeky or telling him off but he got angry. He lifted the dinner and made to throw it at me. When his father came out he attacked him and then he ran from the house.”

This was just the start of more serious problems for the family - problems which went on to see James get into trouble with the police when he caused more than £500 worth of damage to two cars while “off his head” on drink and drugs.

“I didn’t know where to turn,” Mary said. “I had nowhere to turn. In the end I’m ashamed to say I was forced to go to certain elements to try and get him away from the negative influences in his life to ask for their help.”

At this stage James was openly taking drugs - mephadrone, cannabis and ‘blues’.

“There would be days when he would be your best friend and days when he would hate you and everything about you. You never knew what way it would go.”

It was only when James faced serious criminal charges - which he was innocent of - that he started trying to get his life back on track.

Now he is a father and Mary said things are “much improved”.

Charlie O’Neill, from new organisation The Bridge of Peace of Love said James’ story is typical of many young people in Derry.

He wants to use people such as James - people who have cleaned up their lives - to help others going through their own difficulties.

“Young people in this city don’t feel safe and valued. And the only way some young people can feel safe is to exit their lives.

“A lot of people have suffered in this town and have had hard lives. Our young people feel isolated and feel that nobody cares about them and what we need to do is show them love.

“Four wee letters can change lives.”

Charlie is calling on local people to support his plans to build a substance misuse rehabilitation centre.

“We will be working from the ground up to show our young people how we value them.” Details of fundraising plans will be revealed in the coming weeks.

*NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED