If you’d have told me I’d have ended up in prison, I’d never have believed you. I came from a good family, had a happy home life and did well in school. I went to uni and did really well – I got a 2:1 in Music Management – and knew that when I graduated I wanted to work in the music business. Then one night changed my life.
I went out for a normal evening and got pulled into a fight when someone attacked a person I was with. I had one moment of madness – that’s all it took. I was supposed to be going to my graduation ceremony and thinking about applying for jobs, but instead I ended up with a prison sentence, eventually spending 14 months inside.
One night changed my life
I decided I didn’t want to let this define me, so I made sure I used my time inside productively. I’d always liked fitness, so I got some Personal Trainor qualifications to help me get a job in the prison gym. It gave me a purpose and sense of productivity to be working towards the qualifications.
What I quickly realised was that, although I (and pretty much everyone) loved going to the gym, it was quite tricky to actually get time in there. If there was a staff shortage, riot or the prison was on lockdown (all regular occurrences!) you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, let alone the gym. At times, particularly at the beginning, I’d be locked in my cell for up to 22 hours a day.
I started reading fitness magazines to get additional ideas for how I could get fit on my own without any equipment. There were some great ideas in them, but it was quite obvious that the exercises were aimed at people who had access to more space, equipment and freedom of movement that I did. Not to mention the fact that the magazines were also advertising clothes and food I couldn’t buy and places I couldn’t visit, which made for a bit of a depressing read!
If it wasn’t for my family, I don’t know what I would have done
I sensed an opportunity and thought, “What if there was a guide for someone like me to get fit in an enclosed space with no equipment?”. I spent the next year researching and hand writing 182 pages of notes and drawings, all aimed at creating the first ever fitness guide for serving prisoners (not bad for a ‘borderline dyslexic’). The ‘Cell Workout’ was born.
When the end of my sentence approached, although I wanted to focus on the book I knew that in the short term I needed to make sure I had somewhere to stay and a job to start earning money. I was really lucky in that I was able to stay at my mum’s. I had so much more waiting for me when leaving prison than most people – a family that loved me, somewhere safe to stay and food to eat. If it wasn’t for my family, I don’t know what I would have done.
Because I had done my Personal Training qualifications, I decided to apply for work in a gym. I knew that it might be tricky because of my background, so I decided to take an unconventional route – turning up unannounced at my local Virgin gym and asking if the manager would meet with me.
He was willing to give me a chance, which was amazing
He agreed to meet and I explained that I was interested in applying for a role as a trainer at the gym and that I had all the right qualifications, but that I had just got out of prison. He told me that he was willing to give me a chance, which was amazing.
I worked there full time for two years, building up a clientele and working on the book in my spare time. I also applied to The Princes Trust’s Enterprise Programme, which supports young people to start their own businesses and I’d seen advertised on a poster whilst I was still in prison.
The Princes Trust helped me to hone my ideas and write a business plan, as well as support me with training, funding and a mentor. I’ve also received business support and funding from The Forward Enterprise Fund, run by The Forward Trust, the charity behind the More Than My Past campaign.
I launched the Cell Workout book in 2015. It was hard to get it into prisons to begin with but then the Prison Libraries Group heard about it and invited me to speak at their national conference. It’s since sold over 10,000 copies and is apparently the prison service’s most stolen book!
To help people get a second chance is a very fulfilling job because I was that person leaving the prison gates in 2012
The business has now been expanded to include workshops for serving prisoners which I’ve delivered in a number of prisons across the country and have since been appointed the Health and Fitness Ambassador for the New Futures Network. To help people get a second chance is a very fulfilling job because I was that person leaving the prison gates in 2012. I’m also hoping to develop a line of fitness wear and nutrition products, such as protein supplements.
I’ve been so lucky to have been given the opportunity to become More Than My Past and not let one night of madness ruin my life, but I haven’t had it handed to me on a plate. I’ve worked hard to make a new start for myself and I’m excited about what the future will hold for me and the business.