My name is Garry Anthony Fraser I am a film director and poet.
Are you happy telling us the reasons you went into care?
I was without parental control and became involved in criminality at a very young age and the social work system thought it would be better for me if they took me into care.
How did you feel when you went into care?
I just thought it was another game between me and the system, I just thought that it was a fight. I sort of grew up around stories about prison and stories about a lot of my family who had been into care, I just saw it as no different to anything else anyone was going through.
“I just thought it was another game between me and the system”
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Running away, escaping from a secure unit. That was one of my best memories. The system did their best to put me in the most secure unit in Scotland and I beat them. So for me, back then, that was a real sense of achievement.
What is your biggest achievement?
So far, showing my kids that there is another way in life. Showing my son – living my life as an example for my son, seeing him take up an interest in photography, social media, drama, that’s a blessing.
“living my life as an example for my son, seeing him take up an interest in photography, social media, drama, that’s a blessing”
Overall what was your care experience like?
A massive learning experience. When you live in such a closed environment and you have been locked up for so long then you are going to learn, one way or another. It made me sharper, it made me question, it gave me my instinct so to speak, and that carried me through so much.
Did your care experience have a positive or negative impact on your future?
A massive negative influence on my future. The belief systems that I got in the care system were not the correct ones to prepare me for life, they are not the same ones I have now.
What kind of beliefs were they?
Don’t trust adults, careful who you are with in case you get abused…
What drives you?
Telling stories. I feel like my life experiences grants me the platform to speak on real issues effecting real people. That is a massive drive for me. The drama series I am doing just now, The Grey Area, there is something real special happening right now. For me my passion drives me so much, to take on stories from the margins and put it into the spotlight.
“I feel like my life experiences grants me the platform to speak on real issues effecting real people”
Who is your role model?
Danny Boyle. He’s nice, he’s humble, he’s on the top of his game, he’s a massive influence on me right now in terms of being a mentor and learning. He has made me realise that to be a good director it’s not all about film skills stuff, it’s about being a people person and really looking at human nature without judgement which is easy to say but you need to practice it day in and day out.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Yes. Absolutely. Most days last year (laughs). Most days last year I felt like giving up, I was walking 6 miles a day, I was living in a homeless hostel, I was still suffering the effects of coming off the drugs after all these years, I never gave up but it was very testing.
What kept you going?
I just felt that I had come this far, so until somebody told me ‘No you can’t make feature films’ then just keep going and eventually something will pay off.
How much has care system changed?
I don’t know if it is the same in England, but the care system has massively changed in Scotland. When I was younger you could get assaulted, you could get abused, it was a totally different environment back then to what it is now. There are more regulations, they set up schemes like ‘who cares for me now’ so there’s real support for kids in care right now that just wasn’t part of the system when I was in it. I am a patron of a charity called Aberlour and I see how much their attitude is different and how much the staff have changed since I was in there.
“there’s real support for kids in care right now that just wasn’t part of the system when I was in it”
Do you think you were ever judged because you were from a care background?
Absolutely. I tried to join the army when I was 16 years old and I feel the reason I never got in was because I was in care. I think they saw it as I had done something wrong to be in care, instead of a child who was hurting and vulnerable and looking for love. They looked at my crimes but they never asked why or offered any alternatives.
“I think they saw it as I had done something wrong to be in care, instead of a child who was hurting and vulnerable and looking for love”
Why do you think you were doing those things?
I think because I was hurt. The knowledge I was getting says that it was okay to go out and steal, it was okay to hurt people, to get involved with drugs and the members of staff in the care system never offered me any alternative to that. One the things I have realised over the last few years is that a lot of mental health issues flourish when they stay taboo and people don’t talk about them. In the darkness, drug addiction and mental health really thrives like a mushroom and I feel like when you come through it, it is like a diamond. It’s pulled out of a mine, it’s pulled out from stress and darkness and it becomes a beautiful thing. That is the journey that I’m on. I feel that my mental health was manifesting itself in different ways. The care system put me on Valium at 9 years old, so that was always going to have an effect. It’s not relinquishing my responsibilities, I am responsible for all my actions, I take responsibility for them, it’s not an excuse. But I feel that if I had been offered real education, real connection in terms of companionship and role models then possibly I would have went a different way.
“if I had been offered real education, real connection in terms of companionship and role models then possibly I would have went a different way”
Maybe I had to go through all this to realise what wasn’t there for me. It is why I run a social enterprise now because I feel I am in a position where I can create opportunities, where just now there are only barriers.
There are loads of people trying to be like Irvine Welsh and trying to write like Irvine Welsh but there’s no one else trying to be like me. What I am doing is unchartered territory, nobodies come this far from my estate. For me, that’s what I make films and write poetry, I do it for my estate, I do it for the kids from the schemes and I hope that the world gets it.
Did you feel alone in care?
Absolutely, I felt like I was in isolation. I felt marginalised, never felt like I had a voice.
What moment did you start to believe in yourself?
I’m not too sure if I even believe in myself now (laughs) I just take every day as it comes, stay in the moment, don’t let my head fly. I don’t compare myself to anybody else which means there is no cap on my potential.
“I don’t compare myself to anybody else which means there is no cap on my potential”
Did you have foster carers?
Did you feel your foster carers helped you?
No. I was too far gone. I should never have been put with foster carers, I was too damaged.
What is your message to children in care?
Don’t let yourself be defined by the care system., it’s a tiny part of your life. You are going to come out of there and be exposed to a big bad world. You are going to realise the only thing that separates you and makes you grow is creativity, education and a real belief in yourself. It is easy for kids in care to get involved with the wrong things and probably expected considering a lot of kids in care are damaged. It is easy to fall into the wrong group, it’s an easy path to make these kinds of decisions, but the hard path is to take responsibility for your actions and know that people are beautiful and that not everyone is out to manipulate you.
“people are beautiful and not everyone is out to manipulate you”
What was it like when you first went into care?
I was the youngest person in Scotland locked up. When I went into a secure unit there was a lot of violence there was a lot of racism from the staff. It was not a nice place.
If you could change one thing about your past what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change anything. I had to go through the things I went through to be the person I am today.
“I wouldn’t change anything. I had to go through the things I went through to be the person I am today”
How does it feel proving people wrong that you can get a proper life?
It feels great. It’s a confirmation of my instinct and my judgement. One of the things that’s obvious about me is that considering the life that I have been through, media folk find it easy to stereotype and categorise somebody like me that comes along. It breaks masculinity, it breaks the stereotypical nature in which we live. So I feel like I’m not just proving people wrong, I’m backing it up with evidence as well.
Did you ever run away and what was it like?
I loved it. I loved being on the run.
How many times did you run away?
Too many to mention. In one home it could be 36, 38 times. I ran all the time, from the age of 10 to the age of 16, I was always running. As soon as I got a chance, I did everything in my power to run. Unbeknown to me I was running on the spot. Trying to run away from myself.
“I did everything in my power to run. Unbeknown to me I was running on the spot. Trying to run away from myself”
What do you think about the care system now?
I think that the care system now is still not adequate to meet the needs of young people. I feel that governments, successive, current and ones to come, I feel they could be doing more in terms of local colleges, after care, creativity, art and not just token gestures really. Have a plan that doesn’t involve numbers. I feel that young kids are too easily categorised and numbered into a system.
What’s your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Drug addiction. Having a 20 year drug habit was my biggest challenge to overcome. How I broke that was I started learning about psychology, philosophy, politics, health and wellbeing, exercise, stuff that the care system never taught me about. In my life I’ve had to go in search of my own knowledge and I’m still a great believer that I do that every day and that’s what makes me a good film director.
Why do you think that the statistic show that care leavers achieve less?
Because self-esteem is so low. The low self-esteem of kids in care is a national tragedy. I feel that if the care system doesn’t encourage it, it definitely doesn’t help it. We need to have more guys like myself, organisations like Inspired Youth and Wideo Media engaging and speaking with kids in care. We need motivational speakers that have been in care to show how they have made their own path. There’s a real victim mentality that gets put on kids that are in care and we need to change that.
What did you do differently to the people around you that you saw were failing?
I had a hunger and a desire to live. A passion that I lived and breathed in terms of talking to people and communicating through art. Whether it be poetry or films, I had something that gave me a different sense of identity. 10 years ago when my son was born I knew that something needed to change. It’s just madness going on expecting different results with the same approach. They told me I couldn’t go to college. I went to college. They told me I couldn’t teach in the colleges. I taught in the colleges. They never gave me any knowledge about politics and now I’m on a first name basis with Scotland’s first minister. They told me I was no good for the film industry and now I’m making films with Danny Boyle and Ewan Mcgregor. To be honest I didn’t listen to what they told me, I’ve just done my own thing. Stayed in my own lane.
“They told me I was no good for the film industry and now I’m making films with Danny Boyle and Ewan Mcgregor”
Who is the most inspiring person you have met and why?
How do you become successful despite a care background?
You just do your own things. The care thing becomes irrelevant after a while. You don’t let yourself be defined by it. I don’t let myself be defined by anything. I’m not defined because I’m white, I’m not defined because I’m working class, I’m not defined because I’m from a scheme, I just break free of labels. Don’t believe the labels that society puts in front of you.
“You don’t let yourself be defined by a care background. I just break free of labels. Don’t believe the labels that society puts in front of you”
Is there something that your most proud of?
My son and my daughters. To see them become beautiful human beings and the love and affection they give each other shows to me that the chain of abuse has been broken for my family and I love that. It takes nothing to kiss and cuddle and appreciate. Hopefully they will grow up to be fine human beings. My wee boy will not go to prison, he won’t steal motor bikes, he will have a voice.
What is your message to professionals?
My message to them is start working better with families. Don’t side line the families. Try to find a better way of working with dysfunctional families and do it without judgement. We need to humanise these kids and these families and not play into right wing agendas. We’re living in very difficult times. Austerity dictates that if you have an austerity government then poor people get the blame. If that’s the case then it makes it easy for the media to exploit the misfortune that broken sections of society are in.
“Try to find a better way of working with dysfunctional families and do it without judgement”