“At the age of 12, I was sniffing everything from glue to gas, thinners to Tippex and I even tried smoking dried banana skins. At 26, I was drug dealing in cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, and cocaine. All that led to years of misery – from addiction to cocaine and alcohol, resulting in four prison terms”– Mick Hartley, Founder of Kickback Recovery, UK.
Former Sheffield nightclub owner, and ex ‘Big Time’ drug-dealer Mick Hartley, is almost 6 years clean and his story from that, to running a successful recovery charity in the City, is astonishing.
“I was born and brought up on the Gleadless estate in Sheffield, England, by my mum, who wouldn’t tell me who my real dad was, says Mick. Once he knew she was pregnant, he was off. She told me suddenly, at the age of 12, that my step-dad wasn’t actually my biological father; and this affected me profoundly, Mick says emotionally, “because he showed me little or no love or affection whatsoever”.
“I didn’t meet my real dad or my four, previously unknown, step-brothers until I was 27, he reflects, he recalls. I took to glue and gas sniffing (solvent abuse) with the Skinheads who hung around in Pond Street bus station in Sheffield whilst I was still at school”, says Mick.
“I was arrested for shoplifting and assaulting a police officer as a young teenager, after breaking into my school to rob the tuck shop”, he admits.
This all led to long periods of exclusion and isolation before Mick finally left school and drifted into a series of ‘dead-end’ jobs which never lasted, before he got drawn into further criminal activity and drug use.
“This went on for years all the way through school and into my late teens; I was always looking for ways to get high whether it be sniffing petrol, thinners, tippex – I even tried smoking dried banana skins and nutmeg”, he says.
These traumas led Mick into early brushes with the law and time in court with sentences varying from probation to community service, fines and inevitably, custody.
“I was given the opportunity to go onto a NACRO (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) Youth Training Scheme doing landscape gardening and I was paid £27 a week, working alongside local companies, recalls Mick.
“This only lasted a few months because I then got a job at a local Co-op Dairy, pasteurising milk”, he adds.
“I got a job at a local dairy, but ended up robbing it and got 12 months in prison, all to feed my addiction. After working there for 6 weeks, I decided one night, to rob it and I got caught”, says Mick. “I was sent to HMP Hull on remand and then moved to HMP Armley in Leeds, where I spent my 17th birthday awaiting sentence”, he reflects remorsefully. “I got 12 months in prison for the commercial burglary on the Dairy and finished my sentence at HMP Wetherby Youth Offenders Institution”, he adds.
When he became old enough, alcohol and amphetamines became Mick’s drugs of choice after he became a regular at the popular Roxy’s Nightclub in Sheffield City Centre.
“The first time I tried amphetamines, I drove to Loch Ness and straight back, constantly using it on the way, and I didn’t sleep for days. I then started to go to nightclubs to drink and fight and then eventually started going to the famous Limit Nightclub on West Street, which became my favourite haunt for taking drugs”, says Mick recalling his exploits. “There, I would use alcohol, LSD and amphetamines”, he adds.
In 1989 at the age of 21 he took his first ecstasy tablet and E’s’ replaced his solvent abuse.
Over the next decade Mick Hartley became more involved in dealing drugs and was introduced to supplier contacts in Liverpool, where he would buy large amounts of cannabis, ecstasy, and amphetamine to bring back and sell in Sheffield.
“My ‘grafting’ career, which is what people in the drug dealing game call it, really began at the age of 25, says Mick. “I began selling cannabis, LSD, and amphetamines in considerable quantities to fund my habit and to pay my bills by dealing actively at clubs like ‘Bed’, later the ‘Music Factory’ and ‘Occasions’, in Sheffield. I started buying large amounts of drugs to sell back in Sheffield. I was managing a successful bar and nightclub at the time and the appetite for Ecstasy was at its height. The appetite for pills and ecstasy was at its’ height in in the 90’s in Sheffield, says Mick and I cashed in”.
When he was 26, Mick was introduced to cocaine and this led to him becoming what he describes as a ‘high functioning addict’, says Mick. I started working on the doors as a ‘bouncer’ due to my size and muscular build, when I left prison at 27 years old, says Mick, and I worked the doors till I was 43”.
Mick even set up his own nightclub and bar business in Sheffield, called The Ruby Lounge -Cellar 35 in 2002, and did all his own in-house security.
“I used drugs heavily, but my successful businesses meant the money never ran out”, says Mick. “Over the next five years my life became unmanageable, and I became powerless to cocaine”, he confesses.
Inevitably, this risky lifestyle led Mick Hartley into more contact with the police and the number of times he was arrested and gaoled for drug related offences or violence, greatly increased, leading to more time in prison, fines, and community sentences.
“After the age of 27, I upped my game and I became more successful at evading the law and led a completely ‘kamikaze’ lifestyle, belting up and down the motorway ‘grafting’ at all the clubs with drugs”. I’ve lost count of how many times and the reasons I’ve been arrested for over the years, but these range from assaulting a police officer, GBH and ABH, to commercial burglary, possession, with intent to supply Class ‘A’ drugs, dangerous driving and tendering counterfeit money – all caused by my addiction”, says Mick.
“I’d done four prison sentences between the ages of 16 and 26”, he reflects ruefully. “At 45, I hit rock bottom and realised I was powerless over my addiction” recounts Mick.
“I needed a way out. I entered Arc House rehabilitation clinic in Scarborough; and It was only then that I accepted that I was powerless over my addiction and genuinely wanted to stop using. I’d lost my sanity, my family, (he had a partner and 5year-old son), he says, regretfully. I lost the businesses. I lost my physical and mental health. I lost friends. I lost savings, the lot. And this is where addiction takes people because cocaine, in my case, always came first”, he sums up.
Finding faith and becoming a committed Christian was part of Mick’s recovery.
“After experiencing many rock bottoms through the use of class A drugs, I found myself in my second rehab. I was a truly broken man and spiritually bankrupt. My way of thinking always led to painful experiences. I needed God’s will, not mine. I started to work a recovery program but never surrendered fully to God. Several months into my recovery (totally drug free) I relapsed. I was picking the drugs up and putting them down for a few months”.
“I started going to a daycare centre where I met a lovely kind nun called Sr Clare. We spoke about my childhood trauma and long term resentments. She spoke about the inner child, God and the Holy Spirit. She prayed for me. I started to pray more often and build up my relationship with at that time with Mary, Mother of God”, Mick remembers.
“I grew more to the idea of wanting to know more about God and who Jesus was. I laid my head down one night and asked the Lord Jesus to come into my life and to do whatever he wanted with me. To use me in whatever way he wanted to. I asked him to take away my will and let his will be done. I often use these words again and again in prayer to keep this channel open”, says Mick.
Mick credits his recovery to Lord Jesus: “I used drugs only once after asking Jesus into my life. It lasted only a couple of hours, God sees everything! I felt really conscious of my behaviour and flushed the cocaine down the toilet and binned the porn. I NEVER USED DRUGS AGAIN! I kept up building my relationship with Jesus daily. I had signs and feelings of this was a good thing to do. A deep feeding of just knowing! I set up my own recovery community group with the guidance and help from Jesus. It was all Him. I asked for His guidance and counselling skills”.
“I first started KickBack Recovery up at a local boxing gym, where there was a few Christians volunteering. I invited them into my group. They came every week. I felt really drawn to them, I wanted some of what they had going on. I began to read the Bible with them and started to attend the The Crowded House Church and mid week House gatherings etc. I wanted to know who Jesus was , what he came for and what he did. After over a year I asked Jesus to save me from myself. WHICH HE DID! I told my testimony and got baptised”, recollects Mick.
Mick’s relationship with Jesus impacts his work for people. “I have Jesus never far from my thoughts. I’m always asking for his guidance and strength to do the right thing. To help me choose the right words and steer me from temptation. He gives me strength and the confidence to do the work I do. I speak about my faith quite often in my work at KickBack Recovery. I always mention to newcomers and at the beginning of our recovery teachings and group therapy that we are not a religious group, but God is mentioned and some of our members do have faith such as myself but all are welcome in whatever we do. Whether you do believe or don’t. I always share my story and tell the truth how Jesus saved me when all else failed. When I was sat in my mess and had tried everything else, I asked God in to help me do something I couldn’t do on my own, (GET WELL) My prayers were answered. I was saved!”.
“I carry this message in all I do, to those who I think that this message may scare them a little, I slowly drip feed it them. I am a fisherman of men. We have many Christians at KBR who all stick close with each other. God right sized me! I had years of running on ego thinking there was only one God and that was me. God tripped me up! He put me through painful experiences where I was broken but became teachable. I am a truly a different person – the person God made me to be. God saved me and now my faith is one of the main pillars of my support system and through everything I do, I am grateful to Him for saving me and for now being able to help to support and save others from this awful disease of addiction”
“I’m now celebrating almost six year’s abstinence from drugs and alcohol – it’s been a long and painful journey coming to terms with who I really am”, says Mick.
“Arc House Rehab put me on the right track and gave me the tools I needed to eventually get clean after attending hundreds of meetings with various anonymous fellowships”, he explains.
“I then decided that my recovery journey was too powerful and precious to remain anonymous and that sharing my story and breaking stigma was the best way to help others” says Mick with his customary smile and enthusiasm.
Mick decided that the best way to repay his debt to society and help others get clean was to establish ‘Kickback Recovery’ grassroots, peer-led support network to make recovery from addiction more easily accessible and sustainable in the local community.
“It was also to celebrate and make recovery visible and carry the message of recovery and hope on Social media and other platforms and wherever, he explains. To show that recovering addicts no longer need to hide in the shadows”, he adds.
“Kickback Recovery’, started off as a small support group for those in recovery from addiction, with poor mental health and their affected family members”, he says.
More than 2,000 people leave drug and alcohol rehab clinics in Sheffield every year with little support in the community to help them sustain or support their recovery.
“If we can help people stay off drugs and support them to recover their physical and mental health and well-being and move on to become positive, productive members of the community, reconnecting with their families and friends, then that’s a ‘win-win’ for us, the NHS, the police, the criminal justice system and the society as a whole”, Mick states wisely. “We do this through a program of connection leaving the isolation of active addiction behind”, he adds.
The services provided by Kickback recovery Community CIO, as the charity is now known, have grown enormously over the last 18 months, with 22,000 followers worldwide on social media including a closed group of over 3,000 weekly regulars.
Kickback Recovery now runs a weekly two-hour in-person therapy group at The Circle on Rockingham Street in Sheffield City Centre, along with three zoom therapy groups and 11 one-to-one clinics every single week. They have had 2,573 attendances since August last year alone and provided over 3,000 hours of telephone support with 37 dedicated volunteers giving more than 650 hours of their time to the project.
“We’ve been able to meet in groups of up to 15 throughout the pandemic and using Zoom and other new technology, we’ve been able to deliver services in a new and innovative way to people who need it”, says Mick. We have reinforced safe messages of ‘hands, face, space and successfully supported people who’ve need to self-isolate”, says Mick.
“This enables and empowers me to support others to thrive and leave behind the misery of addiction,” he says. “I regret every single minute of the time I spent on drugs and in prison, but it has given me a unique perspective into how addiction destroys lives and the benefits of recovery. I’m hoping that businesses will support the work which we’re doing in the City and I’m more than happy to speak publicly in any forum about my remarkable journey and the critical work we’re doing”, concludes Mick.
(Mick Hartley is the Founder and CEO at Kickback Recovery Community CIO, Charity No 1185300 Company No CE018826. If you would like to support Kickback Recovery Community CIO’s work in Sheffield or book Mick Hartley as an inspirational, motivational speaker please contact [email protected]
By Andy Kershaw
Andy has worked for several years for the BBC as a Broadcast Journalist. He volunteers as a trustee for De Hood and also KickBack Recovery – which helps people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. He is a swimmer, jazz lover and grandpa who enjoys cycling 50-60 miles on the weekends. He loves family time; he has three sons, one granddaughter and two step-grandsons. He has a black Cockapoo called Jett to help maintain his fitness and energy, at 62.