From Prison to Purpose – with Martin Lockett



If you’ve ever driven your car after a drink or two then I think this episode is going to send a shiver down your spine.

It’s a story of tragedy – and redemption.

It’s a story that emphasizes the fact that our whole future can change in a split second.

My guest this week is Martin Lockett – a guy who made two bad decisions: he decided to drink and drive – and then to jump a red light.

Two people died and Martin spent nearly 20 years in prison for manslaughter.

His whole life has been defined by this traumatic incident that ended two lives and changed his forever.

In this Episode

  • Although he grew up in a rough area, Martin was blessed with two loving parents who did their best to keep their boys busy with after-school activities.
  • This worked well for a while, but as they became teenagers it was not so easy to manage them – and they started to mix with the wrong crowd.
  • Like most teenagers, Martin was searching for his “identity” – trying different ones on for size.
  • He developed several identities and had the wardrobe and the vernacular to suit each identity.
  • He had his school style, then his part-time job style, and then his gang style.
  • He was navigating between different worlds, not really feeling comfortable in any of them.
  • This internal conflict drove him to use alcohol to quell his anxiety.
  • Martin’s identity crisis made me think of the inner struggle that we experience when we are drinking too much – we know we should quit but we can’t imagine life without it – so we drink more to quell the anxiety.
  • Like many drinkers, Martin was in denial – and able to convince himself that he was ok because his life was pretty functional.
  • He had a job, lived with his girlfriend, paid his bills, and was studying to be a nurse.
  • Many functional alcoholics delude themselves in this way – I certainly did – I had a good job and a nice family so I was fine.
  • The thing is it takes a huge amount of energy to hold it all together when we are drinking – energy to get up and go to work when we are hungover, energy to cope with young children when we are exhausted, energy to keep up the pretense that everything is “fine” when we know deep down that it’s far from fine.
  • And one of the many joys of sobriety is that as we free ourselves from the shackles of alcohol we release that energy and can use it in more positive ways.
  • Martin took us through the chilling tale of the New Year’s Eve that changed his future, that split-second decision that cost him his freedom.
  • He talked us through the horror of the aftermath – the horror of realising that he had killed 2 people and that the price would be 20 years in prison.  And he was only 24 years old.
  • He spoke of the ripple effect of the tragedy – the effect on his own family and friends – and of course on his victims.
  • As he says we can never really imagine the magnitude of our actions – until it actually happens.
  • After a few days in prison he was given a newspaper – there he was on the front page.
  • As he read the article he discovered that his victims were active in the recovery space – his horror at what he had done deepened as he discovered what good people they were.
  • At the end of the article, the journalist had written “perhaps the person who will be helped most by this tragedy is the driver.”
  • Martin reflected on this statement for days – how on earth could he be helped by this terrible incident?
  • For months he would meditate on that phrase which played over and over in his head.
  • Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the only way he could try to atone for what he had done would be to spend the rest of his life continuing the good work of his victims. That would be the only way that some good could come out of this tragedy.
  • Just one year into his sentence Martin had the good fortune to meet an incredible woman who offered her support – she stuck by him for more than 16 years and is now his fiancé
  • When she heard that he wanted to be an addiction counselor, she discovered that he could study this in prison.
  • She helped him with his tuition fees and Martin also inherited some money when his father died – he knew that spending this money on his education was the best way to honor his father’s memory.
  • Martin threw himself into his studies which had the added benefit that he was not approached by gang members – they could see he was serious in his ambitions.
  • He gained a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a Master in psychology before going through an intensive drug and alcohol addiction program.
  • He was then able to build up clinical hours by working as an intern – running group sessions for some of his fellow prisoners which enabled him to qualify as a counselor.
  • He got his state certification as a Substance Abuse Counsellor in 2019 – and was released from prison in 2021.
  • Martin shared the shocking statistic that 80% of prisoners are incarcerated as a result of drug or alcohol-related offenses.
  • Yet in Oregon, only 5% of those prisoners have access to a substance abuse program.
  • Martin was influenced by the work of Viktor Frankl which helped him to get through his prison sentence.
  • Frankl is an Austrian psychiatrist who spent time in a concentration camp during the war and who maintains that however dire our circumstances, if we can find purpose we can survive – and that purpose must involve serving others.
  • We talked about forgiveness and of course, it took several years for Martin to forgive himself – he was often full of sadness and self-loathing, reliving every detail of the crash, especially on the anniversary of the event.
  • He eventually managed to pull himself out of this dark place and direct his energy toward the pledge he had made to honor his victims by continuing their work and even before leaving prison he had made an impact on thousands of people.
  • Martin talked about leaving prison and how overwhelmed he felt – everything had changed!
  • Whilst prison is grey and drab and the world seemed full of colour.
  • Clothes were different, phones were computers, social media was a thing and there was even an online recovery movement.
  • He struggled with choice – going into a supermarket and having 30 different types of cereal to choose from!
  • Fortunately, he had his fiancé to give him a crash course in technology and help him to adapt to the outside world – and remember to write down his passwords!
  • He admitted that he had been slightly apprehensive about being bored as he had never really functioned as a sober adult before.
  • But of course, it was the opposite and he’s been traveling, sky diving, cruising to the Bahamas, and learning to swim amongst other things!
  • And of course full of joy and appreciation at his beautiful new life.
  • Apart from having fun, Martin continues to work full-time to honour his victims and to continue their legacy. He feels compelled to keep sharing his story to honour his victims and to spread the word about the agony that can result from drinking and driving.
  • He speaks at Victim Impact Panels, mans a suicide helpline, and speaks to schools.
  • As well as being a public speaker he has written two books – “Prison to Purpose Pipeline” and “My Prison Life” – you can buy the books from Amazon or from his website which is martinlockett.com
  • I told Martin that we had a 64% youth unemployment rate here in South Africa and asked him what he would say to a young person with no job and little hope for the future.
  • He advises young people to “stay in the fight” – even if the odds seem to be stacked against them.
  • Don’t give up on yourself – take steps in the right direction and eventually, doors will open.
  • He quoted Martin Luther King who said that “Faith is taking that first step even if you can’t see the whole staircase.”
  • I actually love that quote and think we can apply it to people just starting out on the sobriety journey – it can be so difficult to imagine that we have so much to gain from giving up alcohol – it takes faith – that’s why we need to do it step by step (even if we can’t yet see the whole staircase!)

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