A challenging and traumatic upbringing had a detrimental effect on Martin Sullivan’s mental health, leading him on a road to serious criminal violence and spending many years moving from one prison to another. Now a mental health therapist with LSCft, Martin explains how he’s traded a life behind bars for one where he is able to inspire and help others every day, with a goal of one day becoming a published author too!

Martin, 45, was unfortunately separated from his family and put into the care system as a little boy. He found himself in an environment that was completely alien to him, where his peers were taking drugs, self-harming and getting into trouble with the law. And it wasn’t long before he started to learn some of these behaviours too, the reason for which, he puts down to care seeking (or attention seeking, as some may call it). Martin’s mental health worsened over time and so too did his behaviour.

Martin said:

“For some strange reason, each environment I went to, within months, I’d be the worst person in there. Children’s homes and boarding schools got sick of me and that’s when my prison journey began.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but Martin was suffering from drug-induced schizophrenia. He was hearing voices, experiencing paranoia and lost a lot of weight because intrusive thoughts were ruining his appetite.

Martin added:

“I was severely unwell, constantly paranoid and was carrying weapons, whether they be knives or firearms, to protect myself because I thought people were coming to kill me.”

What followed was an arrest and jail time in Walton Prison. This was Martin’s first prison admission, but sadly wasn’t his last. In total, he spent time in over 35 prisons or secure hospitals, including Ashworth, a maximum high security facility. He was moved to Ashworth following a violent attack on a fellow inmate and a prison officer, which resulted in him being given a life sentence and hospital order.

It was when Martin was prescribed an anti-psychotic drug called Clozapine that his life started to turn around. Within two months, the voices in his head had subsided and his paranoia had stopped. This improvement meant that in time, Martin was able to move to Guild Lodge, our medium security forensic service. With the support of a psychologist, he was able to continue on a positive journey to recovery.

Martin said:

“While I was at Guild Lodge, I was the model patient, literally. I didn’t fail any drugs tests, was going to college and I ended up getting a job, completing two diplomas and won Student of the Year at Preston College.”

Since being back in the community, Martin’s been working with the police, prisons, schools and has even delivered talks at Broadmoor, Rampton and Ashworth.

Martin joked:

“It’s very strange going to Ashworth and getting out the same day!”

He speaks at conferences on a range of things, including: knife crime, self-harm, medication, high secure prisons, high secure hospitals, county lines and grooming. He’s a reform advocate and received the Positive Future Award from the House of Lords.

You’d think that would keep him busy enough, but he also works at Guild Lodge full time in three different positions. He is a social activity coordinator, B.A.M.E ambassador, and works for the Forensic Mental Health Team. Sharing his story and his experience has made a real difference, and he’s had feedback that his words have helped people to stop self-harming. Outside of work, Martin is proud to have a partner and a little girl, something he never thought was possible.

Martin concluded:

“It’s not only created a life but it’s also saved my life. I’ve got a daughter, I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend, my own home, a little scooter I drive, you [the NHS] have given me a career, a valued, paying job.”

Martin’s list of life goals continues and he’s hoping to publish a fictional children’s book about knife crime soon. Watch this space!

For talks or support with projects, you can email Martin.Sullivan@lscft.nhs.uk