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Sheffield musician gets back on the right track after prison

Michael Thompson, creative director of Rite Trax
Michael Thompson, creative director of Rite Trax
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A Sheffield musician who was jailed for dealing drugs has turned his life around to help vulnerable young people.

Michael Thompson was 22 and had just graduated from Sheffield University when he was handed a three year sentence. He served 14 months and says prison proved a turning point in his life.

Four years on, he runs a social enterprise, is a Prince’s Trust ambassador and volunteers for charities working with drink and drug addicts. He’s also appeared in music videos highlighting the problems ex-prisoners face.

Michael is creative director of Rite Trax, which brings together musicians and artists at its venue Plot 22 in Castlegate.

Plot 22, which recently had a lengthy battle with Sheffield Council over an events licence, offers five studios, has space for art exhibitions and hosts music events.

Michael explained: “I got 100 percent in two of my A levels and had an interview at Oxford. I came to Sheffield to do history but then I just got caught up in hedonism and sidelined my degree. I needed prison to make me realise what direction to go in.”

Michael met Jackie Hewitt-Main, who runs the Cascade Foundation, at Doncaster Prison. She asked him to work as a peer mentor, giving educational support to other inmates and he then went on to do a business course in prison.

After being released, the Prince’s Trust supported him in setting up Rite Trax.

“When I came out of prison, my options were limited. At university I used to run events and put on gigs. I was always involved in music and I didn’t want to lie or hide my past so I came up with the idea of Rite Trax.”

Michael teamed up with Dalton Kershaw, Adam Seymour and Joe Gaughan to run Rite Trax. They don’t take any money from the business, instead ploughing all profits back in.

Michael works as a part time events manager to support himself and also volunteers with Nine One One in Broomhall, where he encourages people with drink and drug problems to get involved in music.

He has firm plans for the future: “Business has quadrupled in the first three years and we now work with a core group of 20 artists and musicians.

“A lot of them are vulnerable young people and that’s where prison was useful, it gave me an insight into the issues people face and an understanding of why people behave as they do. I’ve never seen this as work but it’s grown a lot faster than I ever thought, it has snowballed.

“Looking ahead, I want us to be secure financially, running a full time venue that hosts community classes, workshops and events but that also has outreach projects with housing associations or substance misuse charities.”