15:00 (ends 17 August)
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
Three stars for effort and the fourth for sheer blazing courage as Kevin tells us his story – a true story – which challenges us to let go of our preconceptions about people who are homeless, and gives living proof that people can turn their lives around even from what seems like the most hopeless situation.
Kevin stands alone at the front of the stage and in a very quiet voice tells us how he had to make the most appalling decision – to turn off the life support system for his wee son Jamie, only four and a half months old, but with irreparable brain damage and internal organs that were beginning to fail. The support worker was unfailing in her sympathy, the consultant kept referring to “your son” – couldn’t he even remember Jamie’s name?? The funeral took place – such a tiny coffin – and Kevin found it heartbreaking to say goodbye for the second time to the son he couldn’t stop feeling he had murdered…
He moved to Hastings, to be near his daughter, hoping that this would prove a distraction from his misery. At first things looked hopeful – he found a job, got a flat, and started living with a girlfriend, but then he had an accident at work, and the whole carefully constructed edifice started to crumble around him. His daughter moved away, his work had to ‘let him go’, he couldn’t find another job to pay the rent and his girlfriend left him. He started self-harming, took an overdose, spent a week in a coma and woke up in hospital. Finally Hastings council told him he had no connections with the town so they couldn’t offer him any housing, and sent him back to Edinburgh.
Alone and friendless, he found himself on the streets – a terrifying experience, with people offering him drugs or ‘a good time’, pushing and assaulting him, hurling abuse at him until he SCREAMED. A Sally Army hostel offered him shelter, but he still felt invisible and alone, even while surrounded by all the other people in the hostel,
At last things got so bad Kevin realised he had to do something to help himself. He turned to SANDS Lothians – the stillbirth and neonatal death society who help bereaved parents – and for the first time, with a sympathetic listener, he felt able to let out some of the feelings that had been eating him up inside. After his first session he felt emotionally raw but rather than run away went back – and was helped to find ways of coping with the grief of Jamie’s death, to realise that he had cared for and loved Jamie and did his best for him, that he didn’t murder him: he learned that it’s okay to have all that hideous mixture of feelings.
He was offered a flat and, though terrified at the responsibility, accepted the offer. Kevin continued to feel lonely and isolated in his flat and was tempted to begin self-harming again: he realised that he would have to make an effort to get out and meet people or he would most probably kill himself. He found Crisis UK and discovered that the breathing techniques which he thought a load of rubbish actually helped [bloody hell, they worked!]. With the support of The Best Debbie he found the courage to join a music class and learn guitar, to study English and maths, and even to take up drama.
And then he found Raised Voices, the homeless and mental health charity who developed this show and helped Kevin perform it. After ten years of unemployment
Kevin found work as a care assistant and in looking after people, helping them with their meds and making sure that all the health care professionals were aware of his clients’ issues, gave him an opportunity to give something back. He passed his driving test at the fourth attempt and felt an enormous sense of personal pride.
Kevin and four other members of Raised Voices presented Kevin’s story. Clad in black, with few props and some very revealing ‘voiceovers’ of Kevin’s thoughts, this remarkable man’s achievements were simply presented. At the end of the show, we were invited to contribute to the work of Raised Voices: they deserve all the help we can give them for the incredible work they are doing.
It takes guts to stand on stage and act out your own story, and it takes guts to rise to the challenge to let go of our preconceptions and judgements of people we see on the street, who may be struggling with difficulties we can’t begin to imagine. I’m so impressed that Kevin found the courage to stand up and tell us his truth, and grateful to Raised Voices for everything they do. Their website says “We work creatively to develop our members’ confidence, employability and all round well-being” -today’s show is concrete evidence of the incredible job they are doing.