When former River City star Adam Robertson works with prisoners, he is conscious it could have been him.
The actor came from poverty and a broken home and the path of many of his peers led to prison.
Adam has now directed and acted in short film Something to Lose, a drama illustrating the benefits of community payback orders (CPOs), which is launched today.
The film, commissioned by Community Justice, was produced through creative charity Street Cones, which works with troubled youngsters and prisoners, and adheres to the mantra “it’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you can become”.
As a youngster, Adam was a “troublemaker” who appeared before the children’s panel three times from the age of nine to 14.
Raised in the small Caithness community of Thurso, his father was an abusive alcoholic and his young life was honed by the adversity of being the poor kid at school.
He said: “A lot of the trouble I got into was playing up and looking for attention. I had a traumatic childhood. I was going home at the end of the day and seeing my dad beat hell out of my mum.
“A lot of the people I grew up with ended up in prison. When I work with prisoners, I think, ‘There but for the grace of God’.”
Scotland has the highest prison population per capita in Europe and CPOs were introduced in 2011 as an alternative to short prison sentences.
The evidence shows that those released from short-term prison sentences are twice as likely to reoffend than those issued with CPOs.
One year of custody costs the taxpayer £38,000 compared to £1400 for the same period of a CPO, and last year they delivered seven million hours of unpaid work to Scotland’s communities.
Adam became involved with Street Cones after leaving River City, where he played Shieldinch medic Dr Dan Hunter. He was introduced to it by Neil Leiper, who played drug-dealing thug Cammy Tennant.
Adam is now a trustee with the charity and has run drama projects in Shotts Prison, as well outreach projects with youngsters in care in deprived areas like Govan and Barrhead.
He said: “I get a lot more reward from that. I felt I was working with young people who were like I was 30 years ago. If we as Street Cones can give them one positive influence as an adult, that’s an achievement.
“With the young people, we are trying to stop them going to prison and in the prisons we are trying to prevent them returning.”
Adam knows how important the sliding door moments of life can be and how a positive influence can be transformative.
He left school at 15, was on a YTS scheme for £29.50 a week and then got a job at a freezer factory and mopped floors at Dounreay power station.
But a leaflet in a careers office which mentioned the performing arts made him realise it was a job he could excel at.
He turned to his former English teacher Mrs Omand for help and it was her dedication which gave him the chance to study drama, first in Dundee.
He said: “I had energy, I had drive. I was the first in and last to leave the class. I read every play, went to see every play I could. It changed my life.”
He was accepted to the Drama Centre in London, the alma mater of Sean Connery and Michael Fassbender, and a letter asking for help led actor Richard Wilson to pay his fees.
Street Cones is a charity with zero core funding but it punches above its weight in the work it does. For Adam, it’s a passion.
It uses drama as a vehicle for self-expression, helping build self-esteem and develop communication skills, and Adam hopes it brings the same opportunities he found.
Adam now prefers teaching to acting and has worked with inmates on developing scripts which they perform in prison.
He said: “It is hard because it can take them to uncomfortable places. Some of it will be scary for people in prison because they feel judged but it can also give them massive rewards.”
Adam directed Something to Lose, which was written by another Street Cones trustee, Mark MacNicol.
Researching the film, they met with social workers and the service managers of the community payback team in Glasgow and the main part was played by James Greig, an aspiring actor who had completed a CPO.
James plays Tam, who is given the alternative to prison of a CPO and it follows the positive impact it has on his life.
James worked as an extra on River City and was introduced to Street Cones by Garry Sweeney who played Gabriel Brodie.
The 39-year-old from Glasgow has struggled with addiction but turned his life around and found his passion in acting.
He did a community payback order a year ago involving landscaping a graveyard, refurbishing park benches and picking up litter.
He said: “It stopped me from being jailed. It got me into a routine every morning. I did my hours and I didn’t moan. I accepted responsibility for my actions. I felt proud I was helping clean Glasgow up.
“For people who have not had a job, CPOs are a stepping stone to getting the discipline.
“They are better for the people doing them and for society.”