We meet the former Liverpool drug dealer saving kids from a life of crime
At 17-years-old, Stu Otten began selling drugs on the streets of Liverpool, after years of relentless bullying.
After years of violence, crime and threats a former prolific drug dealer has dedicated his life to saving victims of trauma from a life of crime.
At 17-years-old, Stu Otten, now 46, began selling drugs on the streets of Liverpool, in an attempt to prevent the bullying and abuse he had experienced throughout his childhood.
Stu’s mother Shirley Otten said: “Growing up, Stuart was such a lovely son, but the bullying that he went through had obviously really traumatised him.”
By the age of twelve, Stu was suffering from deep distress, trauma, mental health problems, and felt like he had to conform to the ‘macho culture’ around him. Keeping the trauma secret from his parents, Stu became intensely angry and violent, but thought kickboxing classes could provide a release and help him control his emotions.
‘Dark criminal underworld’
Quickly becoming his social life, older kids in the classes took a shine to Stu, and decided he wanted to be just like them. He saw them living lifestyles full of designer clothes, expensive watches, fast cars, and gaining immediate respect from others.
At 17-years-old, one of the kickboxing elders got Stu work as a doorman around the pubs and clubs of Liverpool, but this quickly led to him being involved in a ‘dark criminal underworld’ and he began dealing cocaine, ecstasy and cannabis.
With the drug dealing came gangs and violence, with Stu often used as the person who threatened others and went after them for drug money. Rival gangs directed violence at Stu and he began keeping knives and hammers in his house for protection, and a machete under his bed.
Moving into his twenties, Stu would find himself in and out of police custody, but even was he released, he was fearing for his life, thinking one wrong move could end in his murder. With his romantic relationship breaking down and family relationships becoming distant, he spiralled into mental health crisis and began feeling suicidal.
Time for change
Knowing his life needed to change, Stu walked away from his life of crime and at the age of 23, he began working in a care home. Finding a passion for helping others, he began studying social work at Liverpool John Moores University to study social work, and after graduating, he decided to specialise in supporting those dealing with trauma and mental health issues.
After landing a job at the anti-crime charity Causeway, he soon recognised a gap when it came to supporting survivors of trauma and exploitation.
Statistics show that over 84% of male prisoners in England and Wales have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, rising to over 94% for female prisoners. With this in mind, Stu spearheaded a new set of crime reduction services at the charity, which have grown and grown over a five-year period.
‘Something to be admired’
Now Causeway’s Head of Criminal Justice Services, Stu has supported thousands of individuals, just like him, to break their cycles of criminal behaviour, using a trauma- informed, person-centred approach – looking at the reasons behind why people offend, and working forward from there.
Stu’s mother described how she “ended up losing” her son for six years due to crime and “to some extent didn’t even know it”. But, despite “some of the worst” years of her life, she is now full of “real pride” watching Stu help people find hope after trauma and crime.
Amy Bond, Causeway’s Chief Operating Officer said Stu’s story “inspires everything he does today” and his passion is “something to be admired”. She added: “Over the last five years he and his team have changed the lives of so many.”
‘We all want a world without crime’
Stu says he “would not be here today” if he “wasn’t once given that chance for change” and is now dedicated to ensuring that other people receive the same opportunity. He explained: “People underestimate the link between trauma and criminality.
“I deeply regret what I’ve done in the past, however I use that every single day to drive forward the work I do now. We all want a world without crime, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand. We need to understand and work closely with those who commit crime to break those cycles, and build a better world for everyone.”
About Causeway: Causeway is a national charity that exists to create lasting change for marginalised and vulnerable people. This includes survivors of modern slavery and those caught in cycles of crime and exploitation. More information is available here.