Defender Dean Wells says a return to the Football League with Stevenage at the age of 29 has changed his life.
The centre-half, who made one League Two appearance in the past, had signed a new deal with Conference Premier side Braintree before Boro made an offer.
"When this chance arose, it turned my life upside down," he told BBC Essex.
"I thought 'I just want to be a professional footballer and this is my chance'. I had to grab it with both hands," he added.
After coming through the Brentford youth ranks, Wells was unable to establish himself in their first team and played just one senior game as a substitute before being released at the age of 19.
He joined non-league Hampton & Richmond before serving half of a one-year prison sentence in 2011 following his involvement in supporter violence.
"I started at Brentford and through my stupidity I threw it away. Now I'm older and wiser and I think I still I have a lot to offer," said Wells, who is giving up a part-time job as a school caretaker.
"I don't know where this move could take me."
Wells has worked under boss Alan Devonshire at both Hampton and Braintree, whom he joined shortly after his release from prison.
And the London-born player said leaving his long-term manager had proved emotional.
"I had a little tear in my eye when it kicked in that I wasn't going to be working with him," he added.
"I had to do it for my own point of view and my family. I know everyone at Braintree will understand."