The death on New Year's Day of Craig Morrison, a former colleague and friend, has generated much sadness and brought my own aims back into focus.
Craig's father left home when Craig was seven. He was brought up in poverty by his alcoholic mother. She decided she could no longer cope when he was 12 and had him put into care, a rejection he never came to terms with. Like half of children from care homes, he graduated to jail. : "At 16, I was moved into a bedsit, with a box of food and two weeks' rent paid. I was unemployed and was not even told how to go about claiming benefits. Children leaving the care system need to be prepared, not just dumped off. They need key life skills, such as cooking and budgeting, and need to know what help is available to them. People like me already feel outcast and it's easy to further marginalise yourself from society."
Soon an addict, he eventually underwent intensive rehabilitation at Grendon prison, Buckinghamshire, one of the few rehabilitative jail facilities in this country. That was 10 years ago and it changed Craig's life. He completed a journalism degree and used his experiences and considerable writing talent to contribute to the reform of the criminal justice system. He mentored young people in his local area, undertook research in prisons and worked with a range of criminal justice agencies. He addressed many conferences and groups, including senior politicians and policy makers. No one who met him doubted his intelligence, passion, talent or commitment.
Despite this success, he took his own life. Those of us who knew Craig well knew that his early feelings of anger and resentment were so deep-rooted that they never left him. I was only a small part of his life's hard journey and for a time his anger was directed towards me. We recognised in each other a lifetime of dysfunction. We both spent many years fighting our own vulnerabilities and that is a fight Craig lost. He is not alone: his death is the 31st among the friends I have made during 10 years in recovery.
All these deaths remind us of the hideous and long-lasting effects of a loveless childhood. Society bears the brunt of this. When a child is abused, unloved and neglected, then the failure is society's – and it pays the price because the consequence is more drugs, more crime. Do we want to become a world that is divided between desperate people and those who pay a lot to be protected from them? Or can we face up to our responsibilities and provide some effective alternative to the bad parenting inside the home which has such terrible consequences outside it? When will we focus on interventions that can give disadvantaged children the help they need to form healthy relationships and emotional stability?
Craig had so much to offer but, like most of us in the ex-offending community, he lacked opportunities and support and was subjected to the unthinking moral judgments of others. He used his talent to articulate how it felt to live as a young child in a frightening world of violence and abuse. The need to survive in those circumstances is incompatible with the moral compass imposed by people from more advantaged, loving backgrounds. But how small our voices sound, protesting as we drown in a sea of moral condemnation.
Ex-offenders are often told to accept responsibility for our actions. We should be given more responsibility. Members of the ex-offending community should be helped to self-organise to take some control over our own lives, and I mean specifically the services that are intended for us. Our talents, knowledge and experience should be used to help each other. Our voices should be channelled to the policy makers who can implement change. Nothing will cut crime faster.
Craig, held back by his early years, overcame the massive emotional barriers to success only to find that when he was ready to do something significant, there was little chance to do so. Like other ex-offenders, he spent too much of his life with the door shut in his face. Now is the time to let us in.
• Craig Morrison's funeral service is at at 9.45am on Thursday. Mark Johnson, a rehabilitated offender and former drug user, is an author and the founder of the charity Uservoice.