“I jumped into the Thames to escape them!”

Picture this: it’s late afternoon, he is exhausted, alone after being separated from his friends and all his senses are screaming  ‘DANGER.’ Matthew’s heart is pounding against his chest like a wild beast
desperate for freedom as he sprints throughSMOKING CANNABIS Thames Barrier Park, pursued by a
gang of youths armed with knives and baseball bats.

This all started with a momentary lapse in judgment: a friend’s cussed-filled insult towards a rival, that sparked retaliation from pure rage, which resulted in a thirst for violence that puts the lives of all involved at risk.

As Matthew approached the River Thames, its waters shimmered like a treacherous guardian, separating him from the hostile horde that sought to beat him to a pulp. In that fleeting moment, with adrenaline coursing through his ve

ins, Matthew knew he had only one chance for survival. Without hesitation, he leaped into the icy depths, his body suspended in mid-air, as if time itself held its breath.

What happened next was all a haze. All he remembers next was standing soaked from head to toe and his mother’s worried gaze piercing through his drenched appearance, demanding an explanation for this bewildering spectacle.

As he took a deep breath, his voice trembled with the weight of his confession: “Mum, I had to jump… I thought they were going to kill me… I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I was 15 when that happened, I’ll never forget that day. I jumped because I really thought they would stab me,” Matthew said rubbing his head as he cast his mind back almost a decade ago. “I jumped over a gate that separated the park from the River Thames. Once I hit the water, I couldn’t breathe. I remember being swept down the river by the current, the shock of that dirty cold water and gulping mouthfuls of it made it difficult to swim.

I honestly don’t know how I survived,” he said shaking his head. If you thought that this near-death experience would have caused Matthew to reevaluate his choices, you’d be wrong. But he wasn’t always like this.

As a child, Matthew would have been described as ‘a good Christian boy’. He never lacked a thing. He had the love of his parents, a good support system, was excelling in school, so what led him to go off the rails and get caught up in such a tumultuous lifestyle?

Matthew and his mother Rosemar“Going to church or having a good family couldn’t protect me from the consequences of my bad decisions. I wanted to live life by my rules.

“I wanted to have fun, I wanted girls, I wanted to party and live the life I saw when I was out. I was ready to do whatever it took to have it. It was at uni that I really spiralled out of control. Without my parents looking over my shoulder, I let loose. I smoked weed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I partied even more dabbling in all sorts of drugs including MDMA (ecstasy) and cocaine.

“On the outside I appeared to be living it large but by then, I found myself feeling abnormally low when no one was around. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first. It was a feeling of deep sadness that I could never shake off.

All I could do to rid myself of it was to get high or be with someone. I’d pull out all the stops and throw myself into relationships. I remember spending in excess of £10,000 trying to please the girls I was with but in the end, something was always missing. That is, until I met the girl I thought I’d marry.

“I wanted to be better for her and tried to get back control of my life. I tried to quit smoking but couldn’t. I tried focusing on my studies, but after four years of neglecting my studies everything seemed impossible. I felt worthless. There were times when I toyed with the idea of ending my life, but deep down I knew it wasn’t the answer.”

With hopes of trying to help him, Matthew’s then girlfriend invited him to go to church with her. Much to his surprise, the place she brought him was none other than his childhood church, the Universal Church.

I jumped into theThames small pict.“Although my eyes were red and I was still high from the weed we had both just smoked, all the memories of being in the church as a child came flooding back. I did not recognise the Pastor but when he said, ‘You who are addicted, you who are anxious, sad’ – I was stunned. It was like he was talking to me! At that moment, I realised I needed to find my way back to God.”

Matthew’s regular attendance at church services became a turning point in his life. The teachings and support he received instilled a newfound determination within him. He made the courageous decision to quit his vices. He also distanced himself from negative influences and now found the inner strength to stand unwavering in his resolve despite invitations to return to his old lifestyle.

“I was now alone – no friends, no girlfriend but I was fine! I didn’t feel the void that sent me desperately to smoke or party. I could now concentrate on completing my studies. I made such a u-turn that I ended up graduating
with a first-class degree in Physics.”

Fast forward to today, Matthew has transformed his life and found a new purpose. He devotes himself to assisting others who were once in his shoes, empowering them to turn their lives around. Reflecting on his journey, he shares, “The most fulfilling aspect is being able to offer support to others and seeing them undergo positive changes as I did.”

Matthew’s story serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that with the right support, anyone can embark on a transformative path towards a brighter future.

Matthew Castro