From British Bullpens to Bulgarian Beaches

The following is a translation from Bulgarian to English of articles which appeared in, a local news station in Haskavo, Bulgaria whilst the two members were attending an International Prisons Seminar in Stara Zagora Banni, Bulgaria. The members featured are Bruce from Varna, Bulgaria and Ben C, from Sunny Beach, Bulgaria.

Alcoholic Commits 16 Bank Robberies!

Bruce B.

Bruce started drinking at aged 13 with friends in a local park, sharing a bottle of wine and some cans of beer. Alcohol gave Bruce comfort, restraints fell, and his inhibitions disappeared, especially when talking to girls. At the age of 18, he felt that when he started drinking, he could not stop. Thus, day after day, and as alcoholism is a progressive illness, his drinking became worse over the next six years. At age 24 his alcoholism prevented his nursing career from developing further when he was sacked form his position, and over the next six months lost his relationship with his girlfriend, a property he had purchased to renovate to live in when married, his rented accommodation and all his possessions either sold or pawned. This resulted in Bruce living on the streets or in cheap accommodation. Around this time Bruce consulted his GP, who suggested he be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for detoxification.  Bruce refused as this would mean being admitted to the unit where he had formerly worked, and his pride and ego would not allow him to admit this to his former colleagues. This pattern of homelessness, being on the streets, living in temporary accommodation and sofa surfing continued for four more years with the rare “dry spell” along the way. During one of the dry periods he managed to get employment in a bookies shop and became friendly with the manageress of the local bar, there was a mutual attraction. There was free drink to be had, accommodation in a flat above the bar and a warm body to sleep with, in other words the “alcoholic’s dream”. Subsequently his girlfriend became pregnant. Bruce thought this was wonderful. He resolved to get sober as this was an opportunity to show the world that he could be a good husband and father and that he was not a useless drunkard. His plans failed as he started drinking again, “the marriage was doomed from day one, I never truly loved her, I just used her”. They had a mountain of debt due to his unreliability; he didn’t know how to get out of this situation, he drank to blot it out of his mind.

A short time later, Bruce was sitting in a bar reading the local newspaper and a particular story caught his eye. It was a story about a man who robbed a bank using a shoe box bomb, “I fell off my seat laughing at this as it was just the most brilliant thing I had ever heard of”. The next day Bruce walked into a bank not with a shoe box but with a note saying he was armed with a weapon and robbed it of a substantial sum of money. Bruce paid his debts off and found he had a surplus of funds, so he did what any alcoholic does and drank the money. Bruce subsequently robbed another seven banks, “I had a mental obsession and a compulsion to rob banks and drink.”

Bruce was arrested in 1982, bringing his 4-month long robbery spree came to an end. He was sentenced to six years in prison. Three years into this sentence he was allowed out for a day to attend a college interview. “I never made the interview; I went for a drink instead and came out of a blackout having robbed another bank.” In a five-week period at large, Bruce committed a further seven robberies at banks in Scotland and England. Bruce was arrested once more: “For my troubles I was given another 10 years in the High Court in Edinburgh. It was quite clear society and I did not get along too well.”

Bruce at that point was 33 years old and resolved to do his time and push any issues he had with alcohol to the back of his mind. The years just rolled by “I was on this journey down a long dark tunnel with no light at the end of it.” This was to change some five years later when Bruce was 38 years old, “My buddy Paul and I were clean out of cigarettes, and we plotted and planned how to get a couple of smokes, as we saw it we had but one choice. The Salvation Army were due in that evening and it was open to all wings of the prison. We thought if we went along, we could use our powers of persuasion to cadge a couple of smokes there. This filled me with dread because if no other guys showed up I would be stuck with these Jesus-loving tambourine bashers. I hated religion and anything to do with God and immediately discounted this idea.” Bruce and Paul thought some more and then Paul said something that changed my life forever, “There is an AA meeting in Pentland Hall, you get real cigarettes there.” Bruce went and received his cigarettes, he also had some tea and cookies, but most importantly he was given the offer of SOBRIETY, and he began his journey of recovery from alcoholism. He had a sponsor; he did the steps and was eventually released form prison to start a new life free of alcohol. Bruce realised that life could be good, “I did so many things that as a child I would never do.” He graduated from Dundee University with an MA Hons in English Literature. He worked for a major electronics contractor and travelled throughout Europe and the UK until ill health forced him to stop. He worked as an advocate for people with mental health issues, and as a life coach for ex-offenders before and after release from prison. Bruce was instrumental in setting up two charities, one to peer mentor ex-offenders after release and the other a Recovery Café in Edinburgh. Bruce also discovered he was blessed with a talent for writing and subsequently wrote a play on his life in prison.

Bruce now lives in Varna, Bulgaria with his partner Iliana who he met at AA GB’s General Service Conference in 2016. Bruce shared that he was not afraid to rob banks, nor was he worried about being arrested, all he cared about was the release that came with the continuous use of alcohol and cared for nothing else. Asked if he would ever rob another bank and he answered emphatically, “No, I am a different person now, I have a Higher Power in my life, and believe with his help I can continue to have a good life.” When asked if he was at all ashamed of his past he said “My past life has made me what I am today, one where honesty is paramount. I would not now be in Bulgaria if it were not for my past.”


Ben C., Sunny Beach

Sharing a similar fate to Bruce’s, Ben is 42 and from London. He and Bruce have known each other for some years after meeting in an AA meeting. Ben has also committed himself to living in Bulgaria and conducting business here. He also started drinking at 13, mainly because of family issues. Alcohol rapidly became his best friend; he didn’t always make it home at night often coming out of a blackout on a park bench or in a strange apartment. He made friends in bars with people who drank like him. Blackouts became a regular feature of his drinking. Every time he drank, he swore it would be that last time, but it never was. At the age of 29 he reached his rock bottom. Ben then heard about AA from a friend and went to his first AA meeting: “It was the first time I heard someone talk about something I felt. I felt like I had come home and could count on someone.” Ben subsequently found a sponsor and started working on the 12 Steps to Recovery. So month after month, a year passed and he felt a change in his life, on a spiritual and physical level.

One day Ben found a wallet at a meeting and contacted the owner and returned it to him. They became good friends, and when his friend bought a property in Bulgaria, he invited Ben out for a holiday with him. He liked it so much he returned to live in Sunny Beach. He met his wife, and they have been married nine years and have two children. “It all happened because I found a wallet. If I had not found it I would not be here in Bulgaria, so honesty has its rewards.” Ben is becoming relatively fluent in Bulgarian and is happily developing a successful real estate business.

“In March 2020, I will be 13 years sober. I will just keep on doing what I am doing, keeping in touch with my sponsor and following his example by doing service.”

Aneta K.