It is almost 12-months since Paul Grant was jailed for three and a half years for his involvement in supplying Class A drugs. He thought his conviction would spell the end to his developing talents as a sportsman and his hopes of becoming an electrical engineer.
But Shetland Rugby Club, in a move which has not been popular with everyone associated with the sport, has given him a second chance, allowing him to represent the club while on weekend release. Speaking to JIM TAIT, Paul explains how that has helped him focus on the future and how he hopes his experience will help other youngsters avoid making the same mistakes.
“There is a serious drug problem in Shetland and the court must do what it can to help stamp out that problem.
“I have a public duty to punish those stupid enough to become involved in the supply of drugs.”
When those words were uttered by Sheriff Philip Mann in January 2013 Paul Grant already knew his fate. He was facing an obvious jail sentence and the three and a half years he received was no great shock.
A year on, however, and on regular open release from Castle Huntly Prison, Paul’s aim is to deter others from taking the same life into crime and making the same mistakes he did.
He has been speaking to youth club members in Brechin and Dundee about the pitfalls of drugs and intends, if possible, to do the same back in Shetland when he is freed for good.
In February 2012 everything was going well for Paul. Coming from a respected Lerwick family, he was in the middle of an electrical engineering apprenticeship at Sullom Voe Terminal and in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend.
On the sporting field Paul was really starting to excel. At football he had played in goal for Lerwick Celtic and also been in the county squad on several occasions. On the rugby field he was full back in the successful Shetland team making its mark in the Scottish regional leagues. As a consistent kicker, the best the team had ever had, he was a vital ingredient in the mix.
But away from all that there was a much more sinister story. Paul was involved in the supply of drugs and two years ago he was caught by police with thousands of pounds worth of Class A substances.
After a few months in jail he learned of the possibility of some kind of open release, and made that his target. Attempting to stop others from going down the same road he did is one of the main aims of the scheme.
“I had no idea about the open prison system but it was put to me that I would be a candidate, but before that I had absolutely no idea.
“It was for sort of younger prisoners so they asked me if I would do that kind of thing. I am currently going out to youth clubs and giving talks to youths aged 12 to 18. You speak about prison life, how you got there and the effect it’s had on your family. It’s just to deter young people from entering a life of crime.
“Talking to young people about my experiences throughout my time in the prison system is something I would like to carry on with when I return to Shetland for good. I would certainly be willing to do that in Shetland if the chance arises.
“I am sorry for all of this, and what it’s done to my family. My mam and dad are respected people. It was difficult for them but they are coming to terms with it now and me coming home has definitely helped with my mam’s situation anyway.”
It was former Shetland rugby coach Bryan Leask, now secretary of the club, and his successor Neil Scott who made the decision to incorporate Paul back into the team.
Paul said: “Rugby has been great for me. It has helped break up my spells away in between home leaves and is a great stress relief also. It has given me the opportunity to feel accepted again, something I thought would take a long time after the mistakes I had made. It is an activity that gives me a sense of normality as well which has been great.”
For full story see today’s Shetland Times.