How One Young Offender Turned His Life Around

How One Young Offender Turned His Life Around


After a volatile upbringing, Liam Meredith was 18 when he went to prison for drug-related offences. Behind bars, he was introduced to rehabilitation charity Key4Life, which helped him find employment and then go on to start his own food truck business. Here, he tells that story in full – before Sarah Mead, his mentor at food company Yeo Valley, explains why more businesses need to get involved and support Key4Life.

My childhood was horrific, but I thought it was normal at the time. I don’t really remember my parents being together when I was younger, but I knew they had issues with drugs, and my dad had problems with alcohol as well. They split up before I could remember. My mum met someone else, started using heroin and was always getting beaten up. I assumed other kids didn’t have food to eat every morning and were always hungry like us.
I started getting into trouble when I was 13 or 14. I was stealing sweets from shops to feed myself, then I started selling them in school to get some money. Before I knew it, I’d fallen in with a bad crowd, was wrapped up in drugs and eventually got expelled. I was out on the roads, selling drugs, doing drugs. My whole life was run by demons. At this point, my mum had gone to rehab and had managed to get clean, but I was repeating her mistakes.
I spent many years in an environment surrounded by darkness. At 17, I was mugged by two men at knife point. They threatened me with machetes and took everything I had. I retaliated, so they called the police. At 18, I was given a six-year prison sentence for drug offences at a young offender’s institution. Even though my mum had been to jail, I had no idea what to expect – the stuff I’d seen was from the movies. I thought all sorts of horrific stuff would happen to me.
I hated prison. I was released three years later and knew I never wanted to go back. But it wasn’t that simple. On the outside, I was back in the same environment with the same people, making the same mistakes. Less than 24 hours after being released I was drinking, taking drugs and fighting. Within two months, I was recalled after I got into a fight with a bouncer from a nightclub and was sentenced to another three years inside.
During my second sentence, I was introduced to Key4Life. At first, I thought it was a good excuse to get out of my cell – I didn’t have a telly and was confined to it for 23 hours a day. But the more time I spent with [founder] Eva and the charity, the more I wanted to be a part of it. Part of the charity’s programme for offenders includes a seven-step module which aims to get guys like me into employment and ultimately turn their lives around. One of the steps is about going into the workplace where they give you interview practice and – believe it or not – teach you things as simple as how to shake someone’s hand properly and sit up in a chair. A lot of us have never had a job interview before, let alone a job.
Key4Life also teaches you about emotional resilience. That means taking the power of language away from people and learning how to lose your demons. We practised lots of visualisation techniques and were taught how to remove yourself from a bad situation. For most young offenders, childhood traumas have a profound effect on us as adults, so learning how to shake old thinking patterns and talk through your past is really important.

Liam Mereditth (centre) receiving the Younited Flag award with Key4Life founder Eva Hamilton & the Lord Mayor of London
Liam Mereditth (centre) receiving the Younited Flag award with Key4Life founder Eva Hamilton & the Lord Mayor of London
I was existing in a world of demons – all I cared about was getting off my head. If I hadn’t got involved with the charity, I’d either be dead, in prison or sectioned.

When I was released, I finally had the chance to do something good with my life. I was partnered up with Sarah Mead from [food business] Yeo Valley. She said: ‘If you’re serious about changing, which I think you are, I can help you achieve that.’ She stuck to her word and gave me several work tasters where I tried different areas of the business. I worked in the factory, with the sales team, in the kitchens, at front of house, and in the conservation team, which was my favourite. I loved being outdoors – after all those years behind concrete, I loved being surrounded by greenery and wildlife. I worked on Yeo Valley’s farm in Somerset full time, cutting the grass, and making sure the land and the animals were happy.
Being a dealer did teach me how to sell. I knew I could transfer those skills into a business, so after three years on the farm, I eventually approached Sarah with a business plan for a food truck. She backed me 100% - when they saw the proposal, they gave me all the support I needed. Right now, I’m leasing Key4Life’s burger van and donating 20% of our profit to the charity. I also use Yeo Valley’s ice-cream truck and take the two to events around the South West. I’m currently saving up for my own wagon.
We’ve only been trading for five months but we’re already making money. The vans are only open during the weekends, as I work as a mentor for Key4Life during the week, but business is going well. I didn’t really have any business training beforehand – I threw myself in and have learned everything along the way. One of the guys at Key4Life helps me with the accounts, so that’s given me a basic understanding. Ultimately, I want to be in the financial position to support my family, so mum and my future children won’t have to worry about money or bills.
Often I have to sit back and acknowledge everything that’s happened. I feel so blessed. I still find it incredible that I’ve arrived at where I am today. My life is incomparable to where I was all those years ago; I’m definitely not the same person anymore. Everything’s changed, not only for me, but for the people I love too.
The recent Key4Life awards ceremony at Mansion House was amazing. I loved making history as the first ever rapper to rap on stage, and meeting everyone who received an award for their involvement in Key4Life was great. It still doesn’t feel real. Being involved in the charity has opened up so many doors, including the chance to record a single with Sony and some other guys on the scheme. They chose nine rappers to make a five-track EP. On it, we talk about real life issues, and we’ve had an incredible reaction from it. Our debut single, How It Goes, was even featured on GRM Daily. It was incredible to work with songwriter Fred Again.. who’s produced singles for people like Ed Sheeran. Hearing it on Capital 1Xtra was a big moment.
I was dead for a long time, but Key4Life brought me back to life. I was existing in a world of demons – all I cared about was getting off my head. If I hadn’t got involved with the charity, I’d either be dead, in prison or sectioned. Now I’m enjoying lunch with high-flying people, I get to go to red-carpet events, I’m working on my music, and most importantly I get to give back to the charity. I can’t really put it into words how it has changed my life.

Key4Life Residential
Key4Life Residential
Key4Lfe Team Day
Key4Lfe Team Day

Now Yeo Valley Director Sarah Mead Tells Us How She Got Involved With Key4Life And Helped Liam...

Why did you decide to get involved in Key4Life?
I was introduced to Key4Life by its founder – and friend of mine – Eva Hamilton. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved but, after a chat with Eva, I decided to go and see the charity at work in HMP Portland.

Is that when you met Liam?
Yes. To be honest, I was nervous going into the prison. I had no idea what to expect. In reality, it’s a world made of its own necessity, but it feels detached and melancholic, with a strange frisson of unease. It made me feel edgy and uncomfortable. I didn’t like it, but I guess that’s the point. On our first meeting, I thought Liam was quite something. I liked him immediately and could sense his determination to make a change. He had a definite swagger, and I knew if that was positively directed, something might come from it.

Talk us through the initial process…
Initially it’s no biggie. Three days of work experience is the initial commitment with Key4Life. Then, depending on how that goes, it’s up to the potential employer whether the arrangement continues and in what way. In our case, it never felt like three days was enough time to make a judgement on the character and potential of an individual. We offered Liam three weeks’ work in three different departments and we were lucky to be able to offer that variety. At the end of that time all three managers said they would gladly take him into their teams. That says a lot about Liam. I gave the choice to him as to which department he went into for a three-month trial, and he chose the conservation team. Throughout that time, I made sure we chatted regularly – it was really important that he felt I was behind him and had his back, but equally he knew where he stood with me. He had to take full responsibility for his future, and I wasn’t going to give him any special treatment or influence the outcome of other people’s decisions. I didn’t mince my words and I think he respected that.

What changes did you notice in him during the first few months?
The main difference was that he began to relax. He always came across as super confident, a bit of a showman. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to him in the first place. I think once he found his feet and realised that he could trust me, and us, he was able to let some of that go. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still ambitious and compelling with a great energy and style, but he now owns that space, whereas for a while I suspect it was a survival technique.

On our first meeting, I thought Liam was quite something. I liked him immediately and could sense his determination to make a change.

What did the rest of your team think of the scheme? Were they supportive?
Yes, they were. Initially, they were probably supporting me but we all quickly realised what we could all gain from the experience. There were some early concerns but nothing we couldn’t find a way around. Ultimately, most people understand the basic desire to give someone a chance and, luckily for us, we’re well equipped at Yeo Valley with a variety of jobs on offer to make it work.
What challenges did you face along the way?
My frustrations were all about circumstances, which is a universal problem. When Liam left Portland, he went straight back to the same environment that had contributed to his sentences in the first place. It’s not a good start. He was adamant that he wanted to change, but due to not having a driving licence or a bank account he was still reliant on unreliable methods of getting to work on time. Luckily, we were able to help him solve those issues and he now lives locally and can drive, but these basic things that we all take for granted can be the difference between success and failure.

What did you think when Liam gave you his business proposal?
Liam has always been keen to work for himself and I knew he would be keen to leave us and move on eventually. That’s the perfect outcome to me. Tim and I sat him down to give some help with his business plan and I’m delighted to say that he has built quite a reputation for his amazing burgers, which he sells from one of our sites as well at Key4Life events.

Are you still supporting Liam now?
Yes, and we always will. We have come a long way and he knows the door is always open, although I suspect he won’t need to walk through it. Mainly, we are mates and I’m happy to have him in my life.

Would you encourage other business to get involved?
Of course. The benefits are far reaching for all involved. It’s not all sunshine and roses, and we were definitely very lucky with Liam. Ultimately, no one knows for certain how life will pan out for them, but I do know that if you give someone an opportunity to change their path in life, and they take that chance and make it work, that’s all you can ask for. Those who might have hesitations to get involved are probably right to be hesitant – that’s human nature – but if you can offer someone a glimpse of an alternative life without crime or prison, that’s an investment for everyone involved.You helped change a young man’s life – how does that feel?Great! But to be clear, Liam changed his life, not me.

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