Prison bird 4

God opened many doors while I was in prison

Matt Hammond says God used a jail sentence to free him from addiction and equip him for a new life helping others.

Matt Hammond had hit rock bottom the night he took an overdose and set fire to his flat.

Addicted to drugs and alcohol and unable to see his young daughter, he couldn’t see any reason to live anymore.

Lying handcuffed to a hospital bed later that evening, life was a far cry from his childhood or the future God would later lead him into.

Matt and his three brothers were brought up in a Christian home, with his dad a minister at Chesterton Elim Church in Staffordshire.

But Matt had drifted away in his mid-teens to a life that seemed more exciting.

“I got involved with drugs and petty crime, then moved out of my parents’ home at 17,” he says.

“Things spiralled to the point I was using drugs, drinking heavily and involved in some bad stuff.”

By 20, Matt was a dad, but he suffered domestic violence at the hand of his girlfriend and the couple split up.

The break-up sent Matt spiralling still further.

“I started to drink daily, to use drugs again – just trying to escape.

“I wasn’t able to see my daughter so my mental health was getting worse, but instead of going to the doctor I self-medicated with alcohol and made several attempts on my life.”

It was a miracle that Matt survived the fire in his flat.

His parents arrived unexpectedly to visit and heard the smoke alarm. Together, his dad and the police managed to get him out, but in his hospital bed he told his parents he wanted to die.

Matt was sectioned and arrested for the arson.

He began to receive mental health support, but a few months later while drunk he assaulted a police officer and was remanded to prison.

“I lay in a dirty, smelly, horrible cell by myself, crying. I didn’t know what to do. For the first time in a long time I prayed – that God would just take me.

As far as I was concerned there was nothing left worth living for.”

Once released, Matt went back to live with his parents while awaiting his court date for his arson charge.

Although he continued to drink, life slowly began to look up.

“I was granted supervised contact with my daughter so I could see her once a week. That was a massive weight off my mind, knowing I’d actually be a part of her life, even if I was sent to prison.

“I also had my family, and I started to attend Chesterton Elim again. The people there wrapped their arms around me physically and mentally and were a massive support.”

Just before his court appearance, Matt was strengthened by the prayers of one lady in particular.

“Vera prayed, ‘God, we don’t want Matt to go to prison, but if that’s your will, we understand.’ That was a real eye-opener for me. I didn’t want to go to prison either, but maybe if that was God’s plan that was the right place to be.”

The wisdom of this soon became evident as Matt was given a three-year sentence.

Inside, he had the chance to become sober and rebuild his life.

“I felt like I could start to live again, even though I was in jail.”

He attended prayer meetings at the chapel and met with the man who headed up Christian broadcaster UCB’s prison ministry.

“Kenny treated me like a normal person and talked to me about faith. He was a really positive influence.”

Having left school with no GCSEs, Matt was also able to take education courses, then work as a learning support assistant in prison.

“I taught other prisoners how to read and became part of the drug and substance misuse peer support team.”

After 15 months Matt was released on tag. And this time, life was utterly different.

He attended Chesterton Elim, where his dad was pastor, and was soon leading worship.

He was also able to see his daughter unsupervised. Four years ago, she came to live with him. The following year, Matt married Emily.

“Emily has a son, and I have my daughter. Together, it’s a lovely blended family,” he says.

Matt also completed a degree in social welfare at Staffordshire University, through which he secured a placement at Christian charity Restart, which provides housing for ex-offenders and addicts.

Four years on, he now manages the service.

“God has opened so many doors. I remember thinking while I was at uni, how many more doors can God open? But even now I’m still being surprised in my family and through the things I’m able to do. Considering what my life was like before it’s really amazing.”

Powerful words of song gave peace during turmoil.

On Matt’s first night in prison he cried himself to sleep, but woke up with a song in his head – How Deep The Father’s Love For Us – the song that had been sung years before at his baptism as a teenager.

Matt hadn’t heard the words for years, but they were powerful and gave him peace in his turmoil:

I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart – his wounds have paid my ransom.

Remembering those words, Matt says: “I felt like God had come into that cell, wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘You don’t need to die. I’ve got something for you.’”

Today, as a worship leader at Chesterton Elim, Matt is thankful to sing the song in an entirely different setting, thanking God for the transformation in his life. 

Helping others restart lives.

Matt works for the charity Restart, which helps people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with accommodation and support for issues such as mental health and substance misuse.

Chaplains provide a listening ear and the opportunity to explore faith, while family services workers connect clients with lost family members.

Elsewhere, client development officers help them with volunteering and other activities.

“That’s why I did my degree in social welfare and wanted to work at Restart – to help someone in the way others helped me.”

 

First published in the May 2022 issue of Direction, Elim’s monthly magazine. Subscribe now to get Direction delivered to your home.

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