Life Changers Wales in the Nineties


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Life Changers

How Wales reinvented itself in the 90s. Charting the stories of men and women who faced and overcame huge personal challenges stemming from major social issues.


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In the '90s, Wales faced an explosion of social issues.

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From drink and drugs to disability rights and teen mums,

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they were to test the strength of many men and women.

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I think it just makes you more active and proactive,

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and we called ourselves the last of the civil rights movements.

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My daughter was in my arms and I just grew up, just like that.

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In a way, it was as if to say, this is my responsibility now.

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I was able to pass on my experience of addiction

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because you tell them how it felt for you.

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And when you see people who've got well, it's an achievement.

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This is the story of people who overcame

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extreme personal challenges.

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Through sheer willpower, they changed their lives for good.

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The '90s was a decade of change

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in some of the major social issues in Wales.

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Recreational use of drink and drugs

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became prevalent throughout the nation.

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Teenage pregnancy, once the shame of family and neighbours,

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was the highest in Europe.

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And disabled people were starting to fight for their rights.

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Disabled people had had equal access to recreational

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and educational services since the 1970s.

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But by the early '90s, they still had no legal protection

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against discrimination.

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Activists wanted that to change.

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Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds was born with severe impairments

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which affected her limbs

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after her mother took the drug thalidomide during pregnancy.

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Instead of arms, Rosie has four fingers, and she cannot walk.

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She got a degree in psychology and applied for many jobs,

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but felt she was always turned down because of her disability.

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And even when an offer did come,

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it was withdrawn because of her access requirements.

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I think I cried for three days, then I got angry,

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then I got frustrated again, then I got angry again.

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And then I thought, this is absolutely ridiculous.

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Somebody has to give me a break.

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And eventually I did get a break,

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but I can see how some people give up.

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And I've always felt that I'm lucky, I can speak for myself,

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so if I can speak for myself, I should also be speaking for

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and advocating for those who can't.

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I think it just makes you more active and proactive,

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and you want to go out and make change.

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I think it was at that stage that I kind of became the bossy little,

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feisty little madam that I've grown up to be.

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Though eventually Rosie found a job in the civil service,

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her interest in disability politics led to a complete career change.

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The real political activism for me happened in the early '90s,

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when there was no anti-discrimination legislation

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and I was getting more and more involved.

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I retrained, did a home journalism course,

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also getting involved in disability equality training

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and campaigning.

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You had DAN, who were the Direct Action Network.

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You had Disability Wales

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and you had the Cardiff and Vale Coalition of Disabled People.

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And we would hold demonstrations fighting for legislation,

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particularly in Wales.

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What I would teach within disability equality training

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would be to the social model of disability,

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but the world in which we lived was the medical model of disability.

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And the difference between the two is that the medical model

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looks at the disabled person and sees them as the problem,

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whereas the social model of disability

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turns it completely on its head and looks at society.

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And it says it's society that's the problem,

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and it's society that has to change to accommodate

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and include disabled people.

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There were so many issues that needed to be addressed.

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Everything from disabled people and employment,

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education, access to transport, access to information,

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and that's why disabled people had to stand up

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and fight for these rights.

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So trying to get members of society to understand that,

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we'd hold demonstrations in London, you know, march up Whitehall,

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start off in Trafalgar Square, bring the traffic to a standstill.

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We called ourselves the last of the civil rights movements.

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-What do we want?

-Civil rights!

-When do we want them?

-Now!

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So the more radical the activities,

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the more press coverage you would get.

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And then you would get society, hopefully, asking questions.

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And then through the education route,

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people like myself would come along and answer those questions.

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In 1995, the campaigners got a result

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when the Disability Discrimination Act was established

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to improve the rights of disabled people.

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For the first time it would be unlawful for employers

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to discriminate against someone on grounds of disability.

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I believe that it was very successful,

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because as a result of having the legislation

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some people who would not have bothered,

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suddenly found that they had to make change,

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and certainly, as far as employment and education and service provision,

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it's made huge differences for disabled people.

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In the late '90s, music, magazines and the internet

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were a magnetic attraction for young people,

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and the reason was sex.

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But growing numbers of teenagers having underage sex

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led to more schoolgirl mums in Wales than anywhere in western Europe.

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The stories behind the headlines

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were often due to poor sex education.

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Some were due to troubled family circumstances.

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The most troubled of all were those who suffered sexual abuse

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as children.

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Samantha Yemm grew up with her brother and two sisters

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near Newport.

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When I was round about five years old, my mum worked quite a lot,

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she was in the butchers trade at that time.

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So my mum worked a lot, my dad worked a lot.

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He worked with the funeral home.

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So, come the summer holidays and things like that,

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it was very hard for my mum to get a sitter

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so we ended up going to my Grancha's house quite a lot.

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And my Grancha was our main carer at that time.

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But unbeknown to Samantha's parents, her grandfather, Grancha,

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was sexually abusing her and her older sister.

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When I was five, that's when it started.

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Erm, I can remember everything up until...

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..maybe the age of seven.

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And I've blanked everything out since then,

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cos it was sexual intercourse.

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As Samantha grew older,

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the opportunities for her grandfather's abuse became fewer,

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until they ceased altogether.

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For Samantha, like many young teenage girls and boys,

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secondary school discos were like a rite of passage.

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It seems natural that here,

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sexual feelings were aroused for the first time.

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Obviously, you go into the big school,

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and it's like, oh, my God, boys, boys, boys.

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You know, proper teenage, proper girl.

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And I didn't feel at that time I was a really attractive person,

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because, to me, I wasn't.

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It was, like, "Oh, a boy's interested in me." "Hi", sort of thing.

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When Samantha was 14, she began going out with an older boy.

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Though she suppressed the memories of her grandfather's abuse,

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Samantha had mixed feelings about sex with her boyfriend

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for the first time.

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David was very charming.

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Erm...he was a very attractive boy.

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He looked a bit like Tom Cruise!

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He had the smile.

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But the first day I had sexual intercourse with David,

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erm, it didn't feel abnormal.

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I wasn't frightened. I wasn't scared.

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But I felt that regardless of what happened with my grandfather

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I still needed that male figure,

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because that's what was going to cure me.

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I always felt that I was missing that, kind of, interaction, maybe,

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of a sexual relationship.

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So being with David and actually having sex with him

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that very first time was like a connection for me,

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as though, OK, I'm not going to let him go now because he's mine.

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And because he was showing me some kind of attention

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that made me whole as a person.

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He made me feel wanted, loved, and he cared for me quite a lot.

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And, erm...

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I don't know, we just clicked, and it was what I was looking for,

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I thought.

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But the young couple made no attempt to use contraception.

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For a lot of people in the '90s, drinking was full-on.

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Bingeing by both sexes became the fashion amongst the young.

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But the reasons that led some to extreme drinking

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were often personal.

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It increased the chance of alcohol dependency,

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especially for those vulnerable to psychological issues.

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In Newport, for example, 40% of men drank more than was safe for health.

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Mike McNamara was lead singer with Big Mac's Wholly Soul Band

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based in the city.

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I loved all that type of music so it was great to be able to do,

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to, sort of, emulate all those heroes of mine, you know?

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Sam Cook and Wilson Pickett and all that sort of early gutsy soul.

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And because there's so much excitement,

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everybody just gets into the spirit of it and wants to dance.

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# I feel good

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# I knew that I should... #

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But there was a problem.

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Mike needed to drink in order to boost his self-confidence

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when performing.

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There was a certain point with the booze,

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where it enabled you to do the job without the fear.

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But once I started drinking, I couldn't stop.

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You felt good about yourself. You felt you could talk to people.

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You felt you could communicate with people.

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You could get on great with people.

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All of a sudden, you know, the shackles were thrown off,

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and so you think to yourself,

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I like that, I'll have a bit more of that.

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And then, eventually, it takes over.

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And it ruins you. Destroys you.

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I can remember falling out of the car at one gig,

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and we'd been drinking 2020...

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..special brew and the show was dreadful.

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My wife was there and she said, you were terrible.

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Erm...

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But I thought I was great. I thought I was great that night.

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And I was dreadful. Singing out of tune, didn't...

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You know, I wasn't aware of what was going on,

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what the band was playing or anything.

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In 1996, Mike's drinking reached crisis point.

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I'd been drinking all night, I got a bottle of white wine

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from behind the bar to go home with

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and I'm lying in bed at four o'clock in the morning, wide awake,

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and my wife turns around, she looked at me,

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and I could see the look of despair.

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At this moment, Mike realised he needed to reach out for help.

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In the '90s, police busts of drug dealers were rising.

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-Police officers!

-Police!

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Addiction could cost users over £100 a day,

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often funded by crime.

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And their family lives were reduced to chaos.

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Brian Morris was in it up to his neck.

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A drug dealer, addicted to heroin.

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He lived in Amsterdam with his partner, who was also hooked.

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Their six-week-old baby boy was treated for the addiction.

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I owed Turkish heroin dealers quite a lot of money

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and they proposed a deal for me to make that money

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by smuggling a kilo of cocaine to Wales.

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Then I'd be able to pay them back.

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I wasn't going to do it ever again, because this baby arrived, you know.

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I brought an addicted child into the world.

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That was so shameful.

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But we had the baby for two weeks and the Turkish dealers came round

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and they were threatening so I could have lost my life.

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or they could have hurt any of us,

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so I agreed to do this deal.

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In December 1995,

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Brian travelled to Swansea to sell a kilo of cocaine.

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One last deal to pay off his debts.

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He was trying to come off heroin and was suffering withdrawal symptoms

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as he waited in a hotel room with another dealer.

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I was going through cold turkey.

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Hot and cold sweats and stomachaches.

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I wasn't feeling very well at all.

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And it was about 12 noon when suddenly the door burst open.

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"This is a raid! This is the police! Don't move!"

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With guns pointed at us.

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Then I had thoughts going through my head, I'll get ten years for this.

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My son is not going to see me...

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..at all any more.

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Brian was arrested and taken into custody.

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His plans for the future blown away.

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But then, at this moment of despair,

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he felt his life change for the better.

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The next day, while I was in the police station cell,

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I just cried out to God to help.

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Then, this little voice came into my head and, not audibly,

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just like an impression...

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"You can use this, Brian, to change your life.

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"You can use this time. You can get educated.

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"And you can turn it round."

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And just a warmth came over me,

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and I felt hopeful,

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the despair and fear left me.

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And from that moment I decided it's high time now

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that you gave your life to God,

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because he's been knocking on your heart for years,

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but you've clouded it with drugs for so long.

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Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds never let her disability compromise her life.

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She married her husband Stephen in 1988.

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He was also thalidomide impaired.

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And like many couples, they were thrilled at starting a family.

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A disabled person to bring up a child, even in the 1990s,

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was quite rare.

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Because...

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you weren't seen as being capable of doing it.

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You weren't seen as being able to organise your own childcare

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or your own child support.

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And there were so many people that surprised me

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by their attitude towards that - "Well, how are you going to manage?"

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But it was our decision to have a child, our choice to have a child,

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our right to have a child,

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and nobody was going to stop us from doing that.

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Being a mum was absolutely fantastic

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and I was determined to do as much as I could for James myself.

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I would pick James up from his cot in a mouthful of baby grow,

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with my teeth, carry him through to the kitchen,

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lie him on the kitchen table flat,

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hold the bottle in my fingers like that, and feed him that way.

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And instinct is quite incredible, I think,

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because if anybody else was changing his nappy

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he'd be a right little wriggly eel,

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but, instinctively, when I was doing it, he would know not to move.

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While bringing up her son James,

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Rosie worked hard developing her consultancy on disability issues.

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It was a busy time.

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But as she adapted to new situations,

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Rosie drew inspiration from her own mother's attitude to life.

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-How old is she?

-Two and a half.

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My mum, being busy and active,

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was something that just seemed to be natural with her.

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I think that I've inherited it.

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And coming from the kind of childhood that I had,

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constantly being told you can do whatever you want,

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you can be whatever you want.

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But you've got to instigate it.

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You run your business, you raise your family,

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and I did an awful lot of voluntary work.

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But I thrived on it.

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You felt empowered, you felt you were really making change,

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and it felt real.

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It was real, you know, at long last.

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You know, what you wanted was actually happening.

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In 2015, Rosie was awarded an OBE

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for her services to the equality and rights of disabled people.

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# Wake me up before you go go

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# Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo... #

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In the late '90s, research among 13 to 15-year-olds in Wales

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showed 32% of boys and 39% of girls

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claimed they had had sex by the age of 14.

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Samantha Yemm was still with her boyfriend David at 15.

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They used no contraception in their sexual relationship.

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Yet Samantha was surprised when she discovered

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she was going to have a baby.

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The day came when she broke the news of her pregnancy to her mother.

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Instead of telling my mum face-to-face,

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I wrote this really big long letter

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and explained to her, you know, that I'm truly sorry, erm...

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Sorry.

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I'm sorry, you know, I'm pregnant.

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And I told her how far gone I was in this letter.

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And my mum's face just dropped after she read this letter.

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It was absolutely heartbreaking knowing that I'd disappointed my mum

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in a way that she didn't want me to ruin my childhood.

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I can understand why and, you know, she was scared for me

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more than anything.

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The late '90s marked a high point in teenage pregnancies in Wales

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with over 6,000 a year recorded.

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Samantha received no sex education from her parents

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and was already seven months pregnant

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by the time her school gave a class on the subject.

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She was 16 when her baby was born.

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She got a lot of support from her mother and grandmother

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but it was still a life-changing moment for her.

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I grew up pretty quick, as soon as my daughter was in my arms,

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and I was in the delivery room and had my daughter there.

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I just grew up, just like that, in a way.

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I would say, this is my responsibility now.

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I was scared, I was frightened, holding this little,

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tiny little baby in my arms, being a teenager,

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I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, it's like holding a doll."

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I'd only just finished playing with dolls in a few years previously

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and now I'm holding a real-life doll in my hand.

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I'm thinking, "I don't know what to do with it."

0:21:200:21:23

Samantha and her partner David were engaged

0:21:260:21:30

but after nine months living together as a family

0:21:300:21:33

the relationship fell apart.

0:21:330:21:35

She moved back home with her parents

0:21:350:21:38

and set about finishing school and getting a job.

0:21:380:21:41

My daughter was at home, I'm in school,

0:21:410:21:44

I need to finish my learning, I need an education.

0:21:440:21:46

I've got a baby to support, you know, this is my life now,

0:21:460:21:49

so I need as many grades as I possibly can

0:21:490:21:51

to get a good job to support my child.

0:21:510:21:53

Samantha's grandfather was eventually prosecuted

0:21:540:21:58

for her sexual abuse.

0:21:580:22:00

But though his crime had traumatised her as a child,

0:22:000:22:04

her baby helped her focus on the future.

0:22:040:22:07

Having a baby doesn't solve everything.

0:22:080:22:11

Erm, but, to me, it solved...

0:22:110:22:14

..my inner feelings of, you know,

0:22:150:22:18

I have got somebody else to care for now.

0:22:180:22:20

I just wanted a better life for myself

0:22:200:22:24

and, obviously, and my daughter. I wanted to own my own house.

0:22:240:22:27

I wanted a really good job, I wanted to have that luxury

0:22:270:22:30

to take my daughter on holiday.

0:22:300:22:32

This was the future I was looking for.

0:22:320:22:35

That's what motivated me. My daughter was my motivation.

0:22:350:22:38

I wanted my daughter to have a fantastic life.

0:22:380:22:40

I wanted everything for my daughter,

0:22:400:22:42

everything that I was doing was for my daughter.

0:22:420:22:45

Samantha qualified as a nursing auxiliary

0:22:460:22:49

and bought a house near Newport.

0:22:490:22:52

In the '90s, alcoholism was a deep social and psychological wound

0:22:570:23:03

that scarred families and communities.

0:23:030:23:06

It was estimated that there were over 50,000 people

0:23:060:23:10

with a serious drink problem in Wales.

0:23:100:23:12

Mike McNamara was one of them.

0:23:120:23:15

Like so many people in the same situation,

0:23:160:23:19

he sought out a local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous,

0:23:190:23:23

the mutual fellowship set up to help alcoholics

0:23:230:23:26

achieve sobriety and to remain sober.

0:23:260:23:30

Mike found he needed to confront deep psychological issues

0:23:310:23:35

if he was to turn his life around.

0:23:350:23:38

The alcoholic doesn't stop drinking until he's hurt enough.

0:23:390:23:42

Not the people around him, until he's hurt enough.

0:23:420:23:46

But it took me months and months and months,

0:23:460:23:48

to even speak at AA meetings.

0:23:480:23:51

It's almost like a revelation to me

0:23:510:23:54

because alcoholism was to do with an addictive personality.

0:23:540:23:58

Erm...

0:23:580:23:59

The self-centredness,

0:23:590:24:02

the world revolves around me

0:24:020:24:05

and you live in your own head.

0:24:050:24:07

And that's very, very true of me.

0:24:070:24:09

I am a very solitary person.

0:24:090:24:12

# Your love

0:24:130:24:14

# Is lifting me higher... #

0:24:140:24:16

Perseverance paid off and eventually Mike was able to come to terms

0:24:160:24:21

with his new, sober life.

0:24:210:24:23

It's learning again to live.

0:24:250:24:28

It was a whole new ball game.

0:24:280:24:30

It was being aware of what was going on, rather than,

0:24:300:24:34

sort of, having that... that veil between you and reality.

0:24:340:24:39

And when you get sober,

0:24:390:24:41

you start to realise...

0:24:410:24:43

that all of those things that you thought were you,

0:24:430:24:46

you thought you were gregarious, you thought you were this

0:24:460:24:49

because you went out in the pub and you've done this, done that,

0:24:490:24:52

and danced on the tables and all that, that was you...

0:24:520:24:55

That's not you at all. You're nothing like that, really.

0:24:550:24:58

Mike's new life included singing for Children In Need.

0:24:590:25:02

# To share a love that brings us dignity... #

0:25:030:25:08

Mike wanted to give something back for the help he received

0:25:100:25:13

with his fight against alcoholism.

0:25:130:25:15

So he joined the Kaleidoscope Project as a counsellor.

0:25:170:25:21

Here he brought his experience to its work with people

0:25:230:25:26

recovering from substance abuse in Wales.

0:25:260:25:29

I was able to pass on my experience of addiction

0:25:310:25:35

and you can see that recognition in their eyes,

0:25:350:25:38

when you're speaking to them,

0:25:380:25:40

because you tell them how it felt for you.

0:25:400:25:42

And you can see that they thought the same as I thought,

0:25:420:25:46

that it was unique to them.

0:25:460:25:48

That self-centredness, that whole, sort of,

0:25:480:25:50

amalgamation of personality defects that are common to us.

0:25:500:25:54

They can relate to it.

0:25:540:25:56

And when you see people who've got well,

0:25:560:25:59

who've been off the drink for years,

0:25:590:26:02

who got their job together, their life together,

0:26:020:26:05

you think to yourself... that's an achievement.

0:26:050:26:08

Brian Morris was given a 12 year sentence

0:26:110:26:15

for attempting to sell over £1 million worth of cocaine.

0:26:150:26:19

Dartmoor Prison was now his new home.

0:26:200:26:23

Not seeing my son grow up

0:26:230:26:25

really, really hurt.

0:26:250:26:27

I used to spend hours in prayer.

0:26:270:26:30

I spent hours crying,

0:26:300:26:32

and, you know, saying sorry about that, praying for my son,

0:26:320:26:35

praying for my family and hope they'd forgive me.

0:26:350:26:39

And I started working on all different aspects of

0:26:390:26:42

what was wrong with me in my life and what had gone wrong.

0:26:420:26:45

And I've done this through these Bible courses

0:26:450:26:48

which touched different areas, different topics about behaviour

0:26:480:26:52

and about learning new ways of living.

0:26:520:26:55

I did course after course after course.

0:26:550:26:58

I went up to college level as well.

0:26:580:27:00

While I was in prison I started a prayer group.

0:27:000:27:03

It grew into 12 people coming to my small cell every day,

0:27:030:27:08

who needed prayer.

0:27:080:27:10

And I knew I was doing good and helping.

0:27:100:27:12

Even the officers said, "That's great what you're doing.

0:27:120:27:15

"It's a lot calmer here on the block."

0:27:150:27:18

By late 1999,

0:27:180:27:20

Brian had accrued over 65 learning certificates

0:27:200:27:23

from his Bible courses.

0:27:230:27:25

They formed a part of his application for parole

0:27:250:27:28

for good behaviour.

0:27:280:27:30

And to his delight,

0:27:300:27:32

he won his freedom after serving five years

0:27:320:27:35

of his original 12 year sentence.

0:27:350:27:37

Brian was the model of a reformed prisoner

0:27:370:27:41

and went on to become pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church

0:27:410:27:45

near Caerphilly.

0:27:450:27:46

My enthusiasm while I was in prison

0:27:460:27:49

kept me strong for God and my faith.

0:27:490:27:52

And I enjoyed touching people's lives and seeing people change,

0:27:520:27:57

giving something back, that gave me a lift from my guilt, you know?

0:27:570:28:02

It took that guilt away

0:28:020:28:04

for the years that I'd been a drug dealer.

0:28:040:28:07

And I felt when I became a pastor,

0:28:070:28:11

even though I'd served the time for my crime,

0:28:110:28:13

still, deep down, what I've done, you know, will people accept me?

0:28:130:28:17

But people greet me in the street and have warmed to me.

0:28:170:28:20

All that's forgotten. They remember, you know, what I've become.

0:28:200:28:23

# You're my love, you're my sweetest thing

0:28:240:28:27

# Don't shy away, don't shy away... #

0:28:270:28:30

In the '90s, many people faced extreme personal challenges

0:28:300:28:35

as the social landscape of the nation was transformed.

0:28:350:28:39

But through their inspiration and strength of character,

0:28:390:28:42

they changed their lives for the better.

0:28:420:28:45

Next week we see how men and women helped create a new world of work

0:28:460:28:50

by striking out on their own.

0:28:500:28:53

# Ooh, ah, just a little bit Ooh, ah, a little bit more

0:28:530:28:58

# Ooh, ah, just a little bit You know what I'm looking for

0:28:580:29:01

# Ooh, ah, just a little bit Ooh, ah, a little bit more

0:29:010:29:05

# Ooh, ah, just a little bit

0:29:050:29:07

# I'll give you a love you can't ignore... #

0:29:070:29:09

The life-changing stories of men and women who faced - and overcame - huge personal challenges stemming from major social issues in 90s Wales. Mike McNamara, lead singer in Big Mac's Wholly Soul Band, reveals how he overcame his addiction to drink and drugs. Samantha Yemm, a victim of child sex abuse and a teen mum at 16, tells how she found new happiness as a nurse. Heroin addict and drug smuggler Brian Morris describes his journey from a prisoner in Dartmoor to a Baptist minister. And Rosie Moriarty Simmonds, born with severe impairments after her mother took the drug thalidomide, tells the inspiring story of how she became a mother and a campaigner for disabled people's rights.