Reformed offender turned Leeds youth worker Andi Brierley has raised more than £1,000 for a county hospice through initial sales of his autobiography. Chris Burn reports.
Andi Brierley’s life has come a long way since he served four custodial sentences by the age of 23.
Meet the ex-offender from Leeds helping troubled children transform their lives
So far, in fact, that his new autobiography about overcoming adversity and his transformation to helping countless young people avoid making the same mistakes he did when he was younger was launched in front of a specially-invited audience in the grand surroundings of Leeds Civic Hall.
More than 120 people attended the launch of Your Honour, Can I Tell You My Story? last week, raising over £1,400 for Martin House Hospice for terminally-ill children through sales of the book in the process.
Andi’s mother was 16 and a single parent who had just left a residential home herself when he was born. When he was seven, social services took Andi and his brother and sister into care, leaving his mother with her two youngest children in a specialist mother and baby unit.
Andi was separated from his siblings and placed with a different carer. While they were eventually reunited with their mother after two years, the family’s life was still difficult as they moved around the country and were subject to criminal influences.
He was eventually excluded from school and while living in Stoke-on-Trent was groomed by older drugs dealers into working for them, using him to hoard and traffick drugs while he also developed his own addiction. In 1999, at the age of 17 he was sentenced to 18 months in a Young Offender’s Institution after being convicted of drug offences – something he describes as an “awful” experience.
After serving his sentence, Andi moved back to Leeds but an altercation with a neighbour resulted in him being sent to another YOI. A further two prison sentences in adult jail soon followed as he struggled to break out of his pattern of offending.
Brierley’s life was changed by chance when he heard a radio advert for Leeds Youth Justice Service looking for volunteers while he was working a late shift in a warehouse.
He was accepted and went on to become a youth justice worker in 2008, having been released from prison just three years earlier. He eventually quit his warehouse job and in 2009, Leeds Council secured funding for him to do a degree in youth justice work from the Open University.
He now has a degree, wife, child, his own house, a fulfilling job as specialising in helping looked-after children avoid criminality and has just completed the book about his amazing journey.
Brierley says the launch of the book was an emotional experience. “Child Friendly Leeds (Leeds Children’s Services and Leeds Youth Justice Service) helped organise and deliver the event which contributed to everyone being able to raise over £1,400. As a person with convictions, I felt overwhelmed by the support from everyone. It really does demonstrate that in Leeds, there is always opportunity for people, no matter how difficult their life circumstances. It felt amazing to be able to turn a negative into a positive. I have worked with young people for 12 years in Leeds, however this was a direct connection between mistakes I have made in the past and supported Martin House Hospice continue to do their wonderful work with children and families in need.
“I would like to thanks senior management in Child Friendly Leeds for supporting the launch and Leeds Youth Justice Service for investing in educating me. In particular Jim Hopkinson, who was the then Head of Leeds Youth Justice Service, for giving me the opportunity and taking a risk by allowing me to prove I am more than my convictions. More importantly, my wife for giving me the family life I have now and the love everyone deserves, regardless of their mistakes in life.”