Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

Joseph’s life which had been ab­sent for so long.

His gold medal for the long-haul cy­cle, which many might think lit­tle of, is a lit­eral badge of hon­our which he wears with dis­tinc­tion. He iden­ti­fies his fi­nal suicide at­tempt, when he over­dosed on drugs af­ter get­ting out of jail for the fi­nal time, as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

His fa­ther, Robert, found him in the kitchen, and again, his life was saved.

“I think that was the break­ing point for me be­cause it was the sec­ond time he had found me ‘dead’. It was ei­ther life or death. So I de­cided to try and change my life. And ever since that de­ci­sion, I’ve been clean.”

Quite how a man who has been ad­dicted for the best part of 12 years goes clean is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble for any­one who has not been af­fected by the de­struc­tive na­ture of drugs, but Joseph gives him­self five sim­ple rules to fol­low.

“There’s dis­trac­tion – you have to give your­self things to do. Di­rec­tion - which way are you go­ing? Time – you have to give your­self time even if things are bad, you just think ‘if I wake up in the morn­ing, things might be bet­ter’.

“Ac­cep­tance – you have to ac­cept the de­ci­sions you make. And sup­port – my sup­port net­work, my fam­ily are the ones who have stuck by me. I’ve put them through hell – done re­ally bad things to them. They’ve watched me since I was 15 but this year is dif­fer­ent be­cause I have changed be­cause I want to change.”

His fa­ther, as much a vic­tim as Joseph in this tale, echoes his son’s sen­ti­ments – re­al­is­ing that, de­spite over a decade of wor­ry­ing and pulling his hair out, it has al­ways been up to Joseph to change and, fi­nally, he “wants to change and live life, thanks to this School of Hard Knocks”.

“He’s start­ing to live a nor­mal life – which is what he wants. It’s been hard for me, but like I tell every­body, no mat­ter what hap­pens, he’s my son.”

Joseph isn’t the only one who strug­gled with heroin be­fore find­ing a form of sal­va­tion in rugby.

For­mer teacher St­ef­fan Owen had a sta­ble life, own­ing his own gar­den­ing

busi­ness. How­ever, the col­lapse of his 15-year mar­riage saw him spi­ral out of con­trol and into the grasp of heroin.

“The thing with hard drugs is that it’s a whole dif­fer­ent world al­to­gether,” he said.

“You don’t feel the highs and lows, you’re just at a cer­tain level.

“Heroin is a very de­struc­tive drug be­cause it cuts you off from your fam­ily and friends. I wanted to block things out be­cause my mar­riage had ended.

“I had to face the kids’ dis­ap­point­ment and I was miss­ing meet­ings with them be­cause of drugs. It was a dark time for me.”

A spell in prison saw him hit rock­bot­tom, but it also sparked a pas­sion for writ­ing which has lifted him out of his mire.

A blog that he started while in­side started with a post con­cern­ing a photo al­bum that had al­ways been too hard and emo­tional for him to com­pile – an ex­pe­ri­ence St­ef­fan found cathar­tic as his re­la­tion­ship with his chil­dren im­proved.

Since then, he has started writ­ing short sto­ries and he sees the Hard Knocks ex­pe­ri­ence as a way of kick­ing on with his life af­ter the eight weeks is over, with dreams of pub­lish­ing a col­lec­tion of his sto­ries and set­ting up a new gar­den­ing com­pany fresh in his head.

A tran­si­tion back into full-time work will be far from easy for many of those in­volved in this rugby team with a dif­fer­ence, but the char­ity gives them the best pos­si­ble chance.

Char­tered psy­chol­o­gist Jess Brainch is work­ing with the School of Hard Knocks to ease the process back into work as well as deal­ing with any “long-term speed bumps in life that they’re bound to face when build­ing re­la­tion­ships and fac­ing things in a new light”.

“Al­ready over the last cou­ple of weeks, the way they are deal­ing with un­com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ments and each other was re­fresh­ing to see. Just some of the de­ci­sions they were tak­ing and mak­ing around life, work and so­cial sit­u­a­tions when they’re not with us is re­ally mo­ti­vat­ing.

“It’s im­por­tant we give them skills and a safety blan­ket as they fin­ish the pro­gramme to en­sure they can make these changes in life with­out us nec- es­sar­ily be­ing be­side them.”

Joseph, in par­tic­u­lar, has found the so­cial side dif­fi­cult – his fa­ther de­scribes him as so­cio­pho­bic.

He could so eas­ily have been an­other statis­tic, but life has given him an­other chance, and Joseph, so self-aware and ra­tio­nal about his flaws, is de­ter­mined not to let an­other one slip through his grasp.

“I don’t know who Joseph Daly is. He is a drug-taker and a crim­i­nal. But per­son­ally I’ve never known him,” he says.

Joseph may not yet know who the real Joseph Daly is, but thanks to rugby and the School of Hard Knocks – he’s at least on the right path to find­ing out.

School of Hard Knocks are still look­ing for em­ploy­ers for these men so any­one in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing the jobs fair can con­tact liam@ schoolofhard­ . You can also fol­low their twit­ter page @ SOHKchar­ity for up­dates and news on how to get in­volved.

For con­fi­den­tial sup­port, the Sa­mar­i­tans can be con­tacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.

The School of Hard Knocks in train­ing at Tre­lai Park, Cardiff. The team plays its first match next month

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