Francis and his path to hope
15 March 2022
Francis’ childhood was filled with fear and trauma, which flowed into years of crime and addiction. He knew there must be another way to live, but he had no idea what path to take to get there. At the height of his addiction – exhausted and emaciated – he threw out a desperate prayer for help. From then, his life began to change.
This Easter, Francis shares his story of finding a path to hope through The Salvation Army, and, despite some continuing struggles, the transformation he has experienced.
Francis still marvels that, after praying a desperate prayer for help well over 20 years ago, a truck driver picked him up as he was hitchhiking. “There was this man picking up a scraggly, long-haired, skinny, [addicted] dude, off the side of the road with no teeth,” Francis laughs.
“We started talking and he mentioned a few options. He said, ‘You know there’s The Salvation Army.’ I didn’t tell him too much of my story [but] it was kind of obvious.”
Today, Francis works in disability support and also supports young people from challenging backgrounds transition from school into the workforce. He has volunteered for a number of years with The Salvation Army, as well as other organisations.
Looking back, he says his chaotic and fear-filled childhood and life of crime, addiction and imprisonment is like a distant dream. Francis still struggles with some anxiety from the past but says the simple life he lives is a world away from the chaotic addiction that threatened to destroy him, deeply hurt the ones he loved the most and claimed the lives of many of his closest friends.
He is grateful to have been given a second chance at life and to rebuild relationships with his family.
One of 11 children, Francis says his earliest memories are overwhelmingly painful. Although, after time in Salvation Army recovery services and professional counselling, he now has a much greater empathy for his parents.
“We moved around a lot. My father was a boilermaker and other sorts of things. He also liked to drink. There was always a lot of trouble close behind him, so we were always on the move.
“I don’t recall a day there wasn’t tension. There were always arguments about something. I was in fear all the time,” Francis shares.
While Francis worked hard at part-time jobs from the age of 13, that work also increasingly included crime.
“The only influence I had was the sporadic visits from older brothers who were already deep seated in the criminal world,” Francis says. “They taught me how to steal, how to lie, how to cheat and try and get away with it. My teen years in school were [largely] spent in institutions and reform schools around Sydney.”
By the age of 19, Francis was in prison for armed robbery committed with an older brother.
“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way … There has to be something better than this,’” Francis says, “but I just didn’t know what to do to get out of it … The inertia of the crime world and the drug world was stronger, much stronger, than anything I could come up with.”
A desperate prayer helps Francis find his path to hope
Francis was married soon after he left prison, but his first marriage, he says, was doomed to failure because he was such a mess. Francis soon began using heroin and had violent outbursts, repeating many of the behaviours he had seen in his father.
Ordered by the courts out of Sydney, he stayed with a friend outside Byron Bay.
Francis says: “I’d got to the point that I’d just had enough … I was exhausted.
“I said, ‘God, help me. I’m going to start hitchhiking and if I get a lift into Byron, I’ll just go through the ritual [of searching for money and drugs]. But if my lift takes me beyond Byron, I’ll go to Brisbane and I’ll get help. I’ll do whatever it takes.’”
The driver who picked him up turned out to have a Christian faith. He dropped Francis near The Salvation Army’s Pindari homelessness service. The next morning, weak, sick and desperately thin, Francis was driven to The Salvation Army’s Brisbane Recovery Services known as Moonyah and began a hard, but life-changing recovery journey.
The Salvos help Francis move forward in faith
Francis eventually began softening, finding hope and feeling emotion. He started volunteering on the reception desk at The Salvation Army Moonyah. As his confidence grew, he took on more volunteer roles, then trained in disability support.
Today, Francis, who has remarried, says: “Life is completely different. It sounds very clichéd, but it is nothing like I could have ever imagined. Often times when I look back it feels like a dream, like it was someone else. It’s unbelievable.”
Easter hope and forgiveness
Francis says: “Like other ‘festive’ times of the year such as Christmas, Easter was always a depressing time, a black cloud over the year.
“They had their elements of fun in my childhood years, but also, like the rest of the year, it was shrouded in fear, as it was often a time of family together and alcohol. [Later] when I became homeless and alone, which went on for the best part of a decade, these times were just so painful, the streets were silent, stores closed and a sense of feeling more alone than ever.”
Today, Francis’ faith means Easter holds more significance for him. “Now, Easter is a time to reflect,” he says, “to appreciate the gifts I have and the life experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve had and have in my life, the interactions, the triumphs, the joys of seeing someone’s life transformed, gratitude for the life that I’ve been blessed with, and faith.”
While many struggles remain, including the knowledge of the pain he inflicted on others, including those he loves the most, Francis says Easter reminds him that forgiveness exists.
“I, too, struggle to forgive myself, but in times and with reminders like Easter, I count my blessings. I realise that forgiveness is real and the message of [Jesus’] sacrifice to save others is still real, active and alive today. If it wasn’t, I probably would not be here telling my story today.”
Francis first shared parts of this story at
Stories of hope