Her criminal life began in a broken home. Now he wants to help others

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Howard Ukrainetz, of London, Ont., Said he hasn’t had the best start in life.

Ukrainetz, 27, grew up in a troubled home and watched his mother be abused by men he didn’t really know. By the time he was a teenager, Ukrainetz was a criminal, charged with drug possession, theft and assault. It is a record that follows him today, when he changed his life.

The early years

Ukrainetz, shown in 1995, had a difficult childhood. He says his mother was a sex worker and drug addict. (Submitted by Howard Ukrainetz)

Ukrainetz said her mother was a sex worker, who also had a drug problem. He said he didn’t know his father.

“She’s worked with a lot of bikers and a lot of people that she probably shouldn’t have worked with,” Ukrainetz said. He said he was no longer in contact with his mother.

“Before I even got out of public school, I was pretty exposed to crime, drugs and different things that I think no child should be exposed to.”

Before the age of 10, Ukrainetz saw someone throw his mother down a concrete staircase, breaking her back. “She also had her face on a red burner and part of her face melted.”

The Children’s Aid Society was a part of Ukrainetz life and he has spent time in group homes over the years.

“I loved my mother,” Ukrainetz said. “It took me a while to realize that she was ruining not only his life, but mine.”

The teenage years

Howard Ukrainetz says he was heavily involved in crime and drugs in his late teens, taking him to jail three or four times. (Submitted by Howard Ukrainetz)

As a teenager, Ukrainetz began using crystal meth and getting into trouble with the law.

“Probably for five or six years, I committed crimes regularly – if not every day, at least three or four times a week.”

Ukrainetz has been incarcerated and released from prison on a number of charges over the years, but his longest stay at Elgin Middlesex Detention Center was 2.5 months in 2014.

There, Ukrainetz saw a man die.

“Someone got fentanyl and they told them it was cocaine and they did more than enough to kill them.

“I realized that people can lose their lives very easily,” he said. “I realized I had to get out of this for good.”

A decision to change

This photo was taken shortly after Ukraineetz was last released from Elgin Middlesex detention center in 2014. He was 21. It was then that he decided to change his life. (Submitted by Howard Ukrainetz)

Ukrainetz cleaned up and hasn’t been in jail for years, and there are no outstanding charges against him.

“I’m incredibly proud of myself that I was able to quit,” he said.

It was not easy however – it was difficult to find a stable job.

“I’m currently unemployed and it’s because people are finding out about my past,” said Ukrainetz, who receives EI benefits after being fired from a job he held for a year.

“It was amazing there, but after a truth was discovered about me, the job had to end,” he said.

Ukrainetz and his two-year-old girlfriend, Elizabeth-Rose Merrylees. (Submitted by Howard Ukrainetz)

“It’s frustrating because I tried so hard to change my life,” Ukrainetz said. “I feel like I deserve a chance, at least.”

Ukrainetz hopes to one day own a house and start a family. He has a long-term relationship with a woman who he believes has helped him move forward.

He also shares his story publicly to help others and hopes to work with young people who have faced similar challenges.

“The addiction and the choices I have made are not easy to overcome,” he said. “You have to live with the choices you have made and you have to face the consequences.

“One of my main goals is to try to help people.”

London morning9:16Leave a life of crime behind

Howard Ukrainetz changed his life after years of criminal activity. Ukrainetz tells London Morning host Rebecca Zandbergen what prompted her life-changing decision to give up crime, and hopes her story can help others to do the same. 9:16

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