For many veterans, it can be difficult to find a new purpose after leaving the Armed Forces.
Some soldiers experience turbulence in their lives when they become civilians again – and that was certainly the case for Richard Jones.
He did seven years of military service in the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, where he was stationed in Germany during the Cold War.
But after getting hooked on "risk taking behaviour" while serving, Jones fell into a world of organised crime after retiring.
It wasn't until the drugs kingpin was charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine that he was able to turn his life around – and he now helps others to do the same.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Star, Jones spoke about his journey from soldier to reformed criminal.
Jones said: “For me my risk taking behaviour was a major problem, it was encouraged by peers and superiors because you had to do crazy things in the army.
“But that was accepted as my normal once I left. So it was taking risks coupled up with poor money management.
“Also the military gave me ridiculous levels of confidence and all those variables created a nightmare for me when I came out because I just wasn’t ready for the world I was stepping into.
“An analogy someone said was when you take a weapon of mass destruction out of service you decommission the weapon and remove the dangerous parts like the detonators and explosives.
“But when was I made safe or decommissioned? I left with a head on my shoulders that wasn’t engineered for a civilian lifestyle and my transition was ruined.
“But that head prepared me massively for prison. I was more comfortable in prison than I was as a veteran trying to transition out of the forces.”
Jones left the army and described the rave scene in British nightclubs in the 80s as being “out of control” with ecstasy available everywhere you turned.
He spent 15 years in organised crime and described feeling trapped – saying his only ways out were death or prison.
So when he was finally arrested, it was a relief.
He was key part of a gang that smuggled more than £3 million of cocaine from London to Gloucestershire and Bristol for distribution across the South West and Wales.
Jones, from Bristol, was given a 15-year sentence in 2012 after being convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine.
And he said his biggest shame came from his family learning what kind of life he’d been living.
Once he was imprisoned at HMP Oakwood, Jones started to do some good.
He wrote his own course called Project TLS (The Lost Soldier) to support veterans who have ended up in prison.
It was commissioned and he now wants to continue helping soldiers who’ve been lost in the system.
He said: “As veterans we all struggle with similar problems when coming out of the forces.
"I wrote, created and delivered the course to veterans while in prison. I want to continue helping soldiers when they leave and identify the problems and prepare them for release.
“I’m currently working for a removal company called 'We Like 2 Move It' and they’ve helped me.
“We can provide furniture for veterans if they need anything for their families or themselves.”
Despite his life of crime, Jones admitted that he wouldn’t change a thing.
That’s because he’s now opening up about his experiences on TikTok, where he has almost 50,000 followers under the name The Lost Soldier.
He said: “I have a message to portray about the dangers of being involved in crime.
“People do think it’s a good idea but since I’ve spoken out some have told me I made them do a full U-turn and to me that’s worth it all day long.
“I’m about using my life as an example. Although I was in crime for so long I’m not actually a bad person and I’m more about helping people than damaging them."
He continued: “I’m not going to walk around with my head in shame because it won’t help anyone. This is my way of trying to make a difference.
“I would live everything again exactly the same. Although I do hate the fact I missed out on all the years of my children's lives which I deeply regret.
"I couldn't bear to disappoint my family after going from this soldier they should be proud of to this drug dealer they really shouldn't be proud of.
“But I would take that journey again so that maybe I can now help a few people not to make the same mistakes I did.”
Since being released, Jones said he has experienced the little things in life like never before.
He added: “Something as simple as the smell of a coffee shop. That might sound really strange but if you like coffee you don’t realise how much you love the smell until it’s gone and you experience it again.
“I just like going for a walk with my son to the park or woods – somewhere without concrete everywhere.
“I even like going for a walk into town and seeing people go about their everyday business because prior to my incarceration every experience was tainted from being involved in organised crime.
“You look at things through frosted glass and you see things but don’t experience them properly.
“For the first time since coming out of the army and the first time in my adult life, I experience things the same as others.
“And that’s really nice.”
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