A former drug addict says he is turning his life around after abandoning a life of crime.
Stephen Taylorson, who was hooked on crack cocaine and heroin, ended up in court after he snatched a Poppy Appeal tin from the counter of a chip shop just two days before Remembrance Sunday to feed his habit.
In a bid to make amends, the 50-year-old took on Sunderland’s annual Boxing Day Dip last December to raise funds for the Royal British Legion.
Now, after handing over the charity cash, Stephen says his growing faith in God has helped him turn over a new leaf.
Stephen took the tin from Redz in Barnes two days before Remembrance Day in 2014 and handed himself into police after images from the shop’s CCTV system appeared in the Echo.
At his court appearance, he pleaded guilty to the theft of the collection box, which contained around £25, as well as being concerned in the supply of a class C drug and fail to surrender to bail.
He needed help and he’s got it now and I’m over the moon for him, as he’s really turned his life around.Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal organiser Malcolm Pickering
District Judge Roger Elsey sentenced him to a total of 32 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered him to pay £150 compensation to the Legion from his Employment Support Allowance.
Although he was spared jail on that occasion, he later ended up in jail after being found guilty of taking petrol without paying.
Stephen, of Castletown, said: “It was a good thing to do after my retribution.
“I’m just trying to do the right thing.
“I came to believe in Jesus and now I see I did wrong and I want to put it right.
“It started when I was in prison, I realised I was a sinner in this world and everybody needs their soul to be saved, and that’s how I found Jesus.
“I was on heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis as well as cigarettes, I was eight-and-a-half stone through using drugs and in the last year and a half I’ve gone up to 12 stone now that I’m healthy and I’m feeling a lot better.”
Stephen, who attends the Living Waters church in South Shields, raised £333 for the Royal British Legion through donations through friends and family.
He added: “Over the course of my drug use, I caused damage, but I’ve since realised what I did was wrong and I want to make a difference.”
Stephen is searching for a job and is hoping to get work as a driver, but says it is a struggle to persuade firms to give him a chance because of his past record.
Malcolm Pickering is the Poppy Appeal organiser for Washington and district for the legion, as well as the vice-chairman of the charity’s Northumbria branch.
He said: “I know what the North Sea is like in the middle of winter because I was at sea all my working life, and he is a braver man than I.
“What’s he’s done is fantastic, well done to him.
“He needed help and he’s got it now and I’m over the moon for him, as he’s really turned his life around.”
The money will go to back the beneficiaries of the Legion’s work, such as supporting its work as guarantors for those who have been left homeless, support its Battle Back centres and fund prosthetic limbs.