“IN nine months he has changed his life and has become a reformed person, a real role model for other young people who are currently in his previous situation.

"They can relate to him and see for themselves changes can be made and bad influences and crime can be a thing of the past.”

Those are just some of the glowing words of praise for Boe Bennett, a teenage ex-offender from Southampton who had issues with drug misuse until he was introduced to the Rainbow Project through the Probation Service.

Established in 1981, The Rainbow Project is a charity providing a range of services to vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in and around Southampton.

Boe, who is still only 18, was “mixing with the wrong crowd” and ended up being involved in a crime which saw him face trial at crown court.

But after spending nine months on a pre-apprenticeship programme that should have taken 12 months, he was fast-tracked because he had such a positive attitude and was quick to learn.

And now Southampton City Council has given him an apprenticeship to train as a carpenter for three years working on the maintenance of local council properties.

Boe’s referral to the Rainbow Project came about because he had an offending background for selling class A drugs.

In an emotional chat with the Daily Echo Boe explained how it all started to go wrong for him - and how he has managed to change his life around.

“My mum and dad were employed with a pub chain business which meant they moved every couple of years so I was in and out of different schools and had to make different friends.

"I got in with the wrong people and I got caught out. I was looked after by an au pair for nine years who lived in the pub with us.

“No one told me to sell drugs or do something bad but when you can make big money from it so easily it becomes a way of life.

"It started off small, selling a couple of bags of weed and grew from there.

"When you can make more money in a couple of hours than in a week you get trapped.

"I was 16 when I was doing it even though I was working with a Southampton company providing bouncy castles and was working with kids.

“I’m still working there too. I’ve been there for two and a half years.

"When I got arrested my boss knew me and had never seen me like that. I’d done things behind the scenes and he was shocked.

"It was the same with my mum and dad. They got called up by the police.

“They had been worried because they thought I was smoking weed but they never knew what was going on; it’s not something you tell them.

“Some people who go to prison for it put on this big act that ‘I’m ok’ and they come out of prison and do it again.

"They take that risk and think I’ll live my life like that and if I go to jail so be it.

"They get a buzz off it and making loads of money.”

Boe said he was relieved to turn his back on the world of crime and selling drugs: “I’ve seen some bad things. People threaten you. In the drugs game it’s all competitive and people will threaten to beat you up or hurt your family but I can shrug my shoulders and I can walk down the road and not worry about nothing now.”

And he explains it was the reaction of his family that gave him his wake-up call.

“When my parents found out about me it put a lot of stress on them and not long after my cousin went to jail for three years.

"So it was a real shock to my parents and my nan.

"You don’t realise that when it happens it’s not just you that’s affected, it’s all the family.

“I went to see people about my my anger problem and drug problems. I went to the doctors and did all sorts of courses and was referred to specialists. Some young people don’t do nothing about it.”

Boe continued:” I went to court and received a year’s probation. I got a rehabilitation order.

"They see me as someone who can change so every couple of weeks I go and talk to people about what I’ve done and if I’m seen as not being a risk I can continue.

Daily Echo:

"After doing a year of that I’m going back to court to get an early dismissal. A lot of people are out there to offer help.”

Shelley Arthur, assistant project manager at the Rainbow Project who also works at the YMCA said: “There’s a big drug problem in Southampton. Boe did what he did but he had that wake-up call.

"Some young people think they can’t change and this is my life, but Boe is proof that they can.

“Boe came to the Rainbow Project through Probation and went through a three-day pre-employment training course and did an interview along with three other candidates and then who we thought was appropriate to come to the council did an interview and week’s trial.

“Boe is proof that young people can change and they are not stuck on that path. People can get stuck in this lifestyle through fear and it’s hard to go from that to working 40 hours a week.”

Aaron Brown, who will be Boe’s mentor for the next three years, added: “He’s done very well.

"He’s a quick learner, polite and talks to his peers. And he has had compliments from the tenants at the properties he’s worked at.

"One was from an elderly lady and another was from a lady who had cancer who Boe chatted to about her treatment and how she was.”

Boe: “I went back to see her and we had a chat and she told me she’s doing well and was very chirpy.”

Shelley added: “That’s going above what your call of duty is.”

Andy who has been Boe’s mentor so far and is Area Manager for council property repairs said: “We got Boe through the interview process and he stood out then and we made the decision we would try and fast track him through the trade: he did carpentry for three months, then plastering for about a month, then plumbing and then gas and now he is with electrical.

"The whole time he’s been here he’s been a shining light.

"We’ve had no issues with him. He puts some of our apprentices to shame! He realises he made a mistake.

“It’s no surprise he has chosen carpentry. We have no concerns and would have him working anywhere.

"His attitude has been fantastic from day one and I think he will go out there and be a real asset to the council.

"There has not been one thing negative said about him."

Boe realises he has been lucky and is extremely grateful to The Rainbow Project: “People say to me ‘how have you managed to get such a good job with the council?’ but I couldn’t have done it without the Rainbow Project.

"But if you turn up messing about you will get kicked off the course.”

Shelley explained that competition has been tough to get a place on the course: “At the pre-employment course we started with ten and ended up with four.

"You don’t want a bad apple. Of the four on the course Boe has really shone and has a future.”

Boe added: “It makes you feel good making people feel proud, and my mum and dad are very proud.

"I’m now going to get my head down and get the three year apprenticeship over.

"In the future I would like to do property development.”

Boe is the fifth person to have been given these opportunities through the Rainbow Project and they are currently looking to take on their sixth.