Through his story I was able to understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel and with this I hope to motivate my peers with his message. 

If there is one thing that I tell any volunteer then it is to "just be yourself." That's all that Alex would ask of any volunteer.

Alex Hayden [1968-2020] was familiar to all our volunteers at New Bridge, and it is with great sadness that we heard of his passing. Alex was inspiration to all of us, and our hearts are with Lauretta and his family.

He was born in south London to a Jamaican family, and had a difficult childhood, not going to school, spending time in care, and becoming estranged from his family.  Alex was very bright, as all of us who knew him can attest, but he found school dull and increasingly played truant. He started running with a local gang in Brixton, regularly smoking cannabis. He became a father while still a teenager, but his son died tragically when Alex was 18 years old. It was after this event that he started smoking crack cocaine.

His increasing drug habit led to an escalation in acquisitive crime. Repeated cycles of drug use, crime and prison slowly cut off all his family ties, the relationship with his partner also breaking down. Prison became a place of safety and stability; a chance to clean up, get fit, and retreat from the madness of his life ‘on the out’.

In 2006, New Bridge started to consider a Through the Gate Project, and after discussions with the chaplain at HMP Brixton, the decision was taken to pilot the project by matching an experienced befriender with a ‘repeat revolving door’ offender. Alex was matched with Josephine. Together they worked on setting the goals and changes he needed to make to break the cycle. They agreed to stay in touch post-release.

He was a real inspiration and a testament to how befriending can change lives.

He made a tremendous contribution to our training and was a real pillar of New Bridge ... We'll miss him so much.

Alex was subsequently released in 2007, but instead of going to the hostel on discharge, he returned to Brixton. He immediately resumed his offending behaviour and was back in prison, in the same cell, within a few days. He was charged with further offences.

A New Bridge contact at the prison indicated that Alex potentially faced a serious sentence. The judge later confirmed that he had decided to apply an ISPP [an indefinite sentence for public protection]. Due to Josephine, his befriender, making an appeal to the judge, pointing out that Alex had never been offered any kind of help with addressing his drug addiction, the judge agreed to release Alex into a rehabilitation unit in Bournemouth, far away from the streets of Brixton.

It is worth noting that many who received ISPP's remained in prison for many years past their tariffs, with some still in prison today. This moment was a genuine crossroads for Alex, with the threat of an ISPP hanging over him should he abscond from rehab.

Alex found rehab tough, more difficult than sitting alone in a prison cell. More than once he wanted to quit, but each time was persuaded by Josephine to stick it out. This is exactly what he did, and completed the course of rehab, never again lapsing into drug use. Alex stayed living in Bournemouth, and slowly began to build a life for himself. He met Lauretta, his life partner, and a new, brighter chapter began in his life. He slowly began to rebuild relationships with his family at this time.

He brought a wealth of experience and wisdom about being in prison and the aftermath that was enormously valuable to volunteers and to all of us involved with New Bridge. His shoes will be hard to fill.

Alex had such a significant impact on so many at New Bridge, myself included, and he will be extremely missed. 

Alex continued to stay out of trouble, finding employment and paying his own way; something that Alex had previously believed to be beyond his grasp. He began to give one-off talks to New Bridge trainee volunteers. He spoke at three Youth Conferences and gave the Christmas appeal at New Bridge Carol Service in the presence of Princess Alexandra. He also spoke at the annual Perrie Lectures in 2010, to an audience comprising academics, prison governors and officers, criminal justice charities and forensic psychologists. Alex became co-trainer with Pauline Austin for all new volunteers in 2014. During the last six years, he trained hundreds of New Bridge befrienders.

Alex was an inspiring speaker, a wonderful communicator, and a warm and supportive colleague. His intelligence and sensitivity shone through during training sessions, often punctuating his testimony with original poetry. He was both honest in his assessment of his own past, and also capable of great humility. Alex was proud that he had built a good life after prison, and that he was able to contribute something so positive to society. He often said that paying for a TV licence was a symbol of how far he had come. Similarly, after driving illegally for 25 years, Alex obtained a full licence aged 40! He worked and paid taxes right up until his final illness took hold.

Even as we mourn his passing, we also celebrate the life and achievements of our friend and colleague, Alex Hayden. His influence will live on in the work of New Bridge, and we will never forget his contribution, his warmth, his humour and his friendship.

Alex was a legend. A great bloke.  And full of humility.

I was as inspired by him on my training weekend as I ever have been by anyone in my 69 years ... He was a truly lovely man and a vivid reminder that crimes you may have committed and prison sentences you may have served should never define you.