Joe Fagan’s Story

Dundee Centre of Mission

I never thought change was possible, not after my life

Joe, aged 49 from Dundee, is one of the members of Pirate Monks, a counselling and recovery group run through our Dundee Centre of Mission.  

We are deeply grateful to Joe for sharing his story with us and demonstrating how the work of Church Army, in community, is genuinely transforming lives through the love of God in action!  

“From the age of 13 my life didn’t take the easy road. I got expelled from every primary school in Dundee because of my behaviour. 

It was my reading, writing, spelling. I could see the word in my mind but there was a lag between me thinking of a word, spelling, and writing it. I used to get put in the corner with a dunce hat on. That was back in the days like. 

So, you’ve got this peer pressure of being an absolute Wally right in front of the class, and I got bullied, heavily.  

My lunch money was stole off us, so I was picking apples and sandwiches out of the bin. Personally, I became numb. But when my sister got picked on, I just saw red and started hitting everybody.  

It ended up with me going to a residential school, but they reacted to my behaviour through restraining me – pressing my body to the ground and face against the carpet. I got friction burn on my face. I was 12.

I thought everybody was against us.

I ran away every chance I got. I was in that first school for a year, before going to another residential school in Fife, and man was that experience horrific! If anything, I didn’t get a lot of education.  

I was one of the 42 victims at that school who were mentally and physically abused. 

At the age of 16, I’d say I had the attitude of a 12-year-old. I left school and got involved with petty crime, smoking dope, and shoplifting.

And then at 17, everything fell like dominoes.

I was accused of an assault against a boy when I was 13. I tried to explain it to the Police, “I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me”, but that was a mistake. I thought I’d been at school but realised later I had been home. They classed it that I was lying to cover it up.  

When it came to court, the Sherriff asked, ‘What does your client plead?’. I tried to say, ‘not guilty’, but the Sherriff decided not to accept my plea and told my dad, ‘I’m classing your son as mentally disabled, so you assume responsibility and I suggest you plead guilty.’ Because I had lied about where I was.

He pleaded guilty. I got 18 months probation.

It eventually came to the stage that my family made the decision to ask me to leave, and I was on and off homeless from the age of 17 until I was 40, sleeping rough.

When you’re homeless in Dundee man, you get put on the waiting list by the council but that doesn’t mean you got a room that night. You wait a month, two months, until there is space on the list. But I was in and out because I was getting involved with crime. Mostly just breaches of the peace, getting drunk, some other stuff I’m not proud of.

I survived smoking a load of weed, drank, and was in and out of prison. I’d sleep wrapped in 3-4 layers of clothes, waking up to a sweat in the morning. I’d also go to the student housing accommodation and sleep underneath the staircase. The heating there was something lovely. It was like going from Scotland to Saudi Arabia. Landing on the carpet and just falling asleep.

It was 25 years before I got a bedsit in the posh end of Dundee where people drive the top of the range Range Rovers and have their hair and makeup done. I was like, I’m in heaven! 

I came into St. Luke’s Church for a food parcel, would you believe?  

I’d started that morning with whisky and weed before going up to the church, and was waiting there, looking like the Grim Reaper on holiday. And they invited me back!  

So I came back, came back, came back…and the darkness slowly went away.

I started coming to the services and after a year I felt like I wanted to give my life to Jesus Christ.   

I was taken down to Broughty Ferry Castle and was baptised in the Silvery Tay. I was dunked once, got up and went, “Holy ****”, so I was dunked twice!  

Everything changed. The anger I felt, and the anger I felt Dundee had towards me, had left. I was able to walk through the whole of town without getting picked on. People were actually helping me, instead of telling me, “Get away you wierdo!” And that was it, I mean, that’s what changed. 

I’d say the biggest thing my relationship with church has helped me with is forgiving people.  

I’ve got a lot of people to forgive, from before the age of 13, way up to the age of 40, my list is endless. But I think God’s got a lovely, mysterious way of popping people on your radar.  

For example, there was a guy that I met who used to bully me heavily, him and his brother. He turned up in front of me and my face went white! But I found myself praying for them. I was looking at myself the next morning as I was shaving going, ‘Is that me?’ But these things are up to Jesus now.”

Homelessness and Addiction are both major issues in the UK, with more people sleeping rough, and greater numbers of people either relapsing into addiction or increasing their alcohol intake to harmful levels.  

Because of this our work is more critical than ever, meeting people like Joe through practical and spiritual help, and demonstrating that God’s plan is that we all may have life and have it to the full!

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