I’m going to start from the beginning. I didn’t have a bad upbringing. My parents worked hard for our family and always provided for me and my sister. They taught us right from wrong, how to be kind, loving and caring. We weren’t rich, but we never ever went without.
I finished school with 11 GCSEs (A Distinction in Engineering, 7-A’s and 3-B’s). I wanted to be an aircraft engineer. That was my dream. I left school and went straight to college to study Aeronautical Engineering in Ystrad Mynach, South Wales, UK. It was a 2-year course. Upon finishing, I was scouted, along with 6 other students for a full-time job in Nordam Europe LTD. Nordam specializes in carbon fiber bonding. This is the skin that wraps every commercial aircraft, including the engine. I was in. The dream come true.
After 4-and-a-half years working there, I started to get bored and it became monotonous. I’m not saying it was a bad job — it paid very well, almost too well for an 18 to 22 year old boy. All my life I had been incredibly ambitious to the point where it quickly became a curse.
Everyone loves money right? I did too… I wanted the best car, I wanted the biggest house — to be able to have what I wanted when I wanted it seemed normal to me. It was inevitable. Young, ambitious, passionate and driven, I needed a way to make money and lots of it. Which brings me to the next phase of my life.
My initial charge was “Conspiracy to import 413 kilograms of Cannabis Resin to the UK’. Let me put that into perspective. 18.5 thousand ounces. Valued at £1.7m [$2.23m by today’s exchange rate]. I was sentenced to 6 years in prison, with one third off for a guilty plea.
It took me just two years to go from supplying cannabis to my friends for £10s of pounds to importation on a massive scale. My curse. Whatever I put my mind too, I had to be the best.
There was a point that made me realize just exactly what I had gotten myself into. Hooked up to a lie detector in a hotel room in London over missing money. I remember hearing my heart beating outside of my body. I hand on heart swear.
Prison is tough. The first time they closed the door to my 6x4ft cell, immediately realizing my freedom had been taken, was the lowest point of my life, mixed with relief. Relieved that it was all over. I was no longer involved. As surreal as it may sound, I was happy for the first time in years. Being in so deep, I cannot express how difficult it is to walk away from such a business. Prison was my way out. Prison was my chance to start fresh. I deserved to be there, but do not believe I deserved the second chance. For that, I’m truly thankful.
Locked up 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. Getting used to the routine was tough. Being told when to eat and when to sleep. Trying to figure out how to pass the time more efficiently.
Photography saved my life.
The prison library is a small room crammed with used donated books. I chose The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum. I was hooked. Photography has always been in my family — my father and I used to develop film in our attic when I was a child. It was in my blood.
Months went by. At this point, my Dad was sending me book after book, all related to photography. I started eating healthy, I quit smoking and physically trained daily. I was fit, my mind was a sponge and I soaked up my second chance at life. Making good of a bad situation. Preparing for release was my new goal. Urging to make my family proud again, my curse became my strength.
I was released from prison on March 13th, 2013. I remember the day clearly, everything was big and fast. I had been staring at walls for years, and being able to look at long distances was startling. I remember walking up to a sports shop with my sister and waiting for her to open the door for me. I hadn’t opened a door in so long, as they were always opened for me by the prison officers.
Healthy, fit and determined to make right, my business was born. RGB Photography. At this time I had ZERO experience with a DSLR. My first camera was a Nikon D7000. I began my journey.
I found my passion for wedding photography after taking my D7000 to my sister’s wedding. Instantly addicted. Blood, sweat, and tears, constantly learning, frustration, comparing myself to others, going from having what I wanted, when I wanted it, to having nothing. Applying “The Curse” to something positive.
It’s 2016 and my business was thriving. Little did I know, photography didn’t just save my life, it would be the key factor in me meeting my gorgeous, talented wife.
I posted a photo in a Facebook group and this girl commented, “Handsome and talented, your wife must be very lucky.” Smooth, right? Yaky Di Roma! She was from Orlando, Florida. I messaged her. Messages turned into hours upon end of Skyping. After a few months, I bought a ticket and flew to America to meet her. After having the best 2 weeks of my life with her, I proposed. Our connection was so strong, and I knew we were going to be together forever.
Since then we have married, moved to Madrid, I’ve adopted her son, and we are 21 weeks pregnant. My wife being a photographer herself was a massive turn on for me, and we quickly merged businesses. Fire and Ice was born. I now get to travel the world, doing what I love with the person I love. Our business employs 6 people full time, which makes me so proud.
I am by no means proud to be writing this — I have tears in my eyes, and it scares the living hell out of me, just talking about it.
Life can get pretty nasty. Some people go through situations and develop certain mentalities. Some people fail miserably after risking everything and develop certain beliefs about life. If you ever find yourself in a bad situation, and you don’t know which way to turn, stay strong, be positive and keep fighting. There is always a way out. Never give up!
Don’t let the demons from your past chase you forever and bring you down. You determine what your life can be. Own it. Move forward, fight all the way and love harder.
There are many and many people who faced adversity and serious setbacks due to stupid decisions in their lives but didn’t give up on themselves. I am just one example.
I truly regret my past and I hate the person I was. Every opportunity I get to give back such as local charity events, I take them. The system works, you just have to work with it.
And that’s how photography saved my life. Thanks for reading.
About the author: Christian John O’Reilly is a UK-based wedding photographer and one half of Fire and Ice with his wife Yaky. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of O’Reilly’s work on his Facebook and and Instagram. This article was also published here.