I remember my last day in prison. It was the first time I’d been there and I was determined to not go back in again, but it turns out it’s not that easy.
I wanted to get a job when I got out but it wasn’t happening – I mean, who wants to employ a former bank robber? No one even wanted to interview me, let alone actually hire me, despite applying for over 40 jobs. I finally ended up lying on an application form and not declaring my criminal record, and – surprise, surprise – I got an interview. When I got there I told the panel about my past, and you could physically see them tense up. Unsurprisingly, I never heard back about the job
I was trying my hardest to turn things around and not go back to crime, but I had no way to make an honest living.
I didn’t know what to do – I was trying my hardest to turn things around and not go back to crime but I had no way to make an honest living for myself if I couldn’t get a job. It felt like society seemed intent on me being a criminal, despite me having already paid my dues.
Eventually, a friend told me about a job where he worked painting the railings in Kensington Gardens. He got me in the ‘back door’ and although it was disheartening to not be able to get work the same way as other people, I was just so glad to finally be earning a living. After a while they offered me a full time job and when that happened, I told my manager about my history. He said that it wasn’t important – he saw a man who came in on time, worked hard and that was all that mattered. It was amazing to hear.
No one even wanted to interview me, let alone actually hire me
After eight years, I was offered a job with another organisation, training unemployed people in vocational skills. It was here that I met a man named Mick May, who was Chief Executive of the company and an ex-city investment banker.
He was in the process of setting up a social enterprise to support ex-offenders like me into employment and it seemed like the perfect match: He had the business connections and I knew first-hand what it was like to be an ex-offender trying to find a job. I supported him with the planning and was the first person they ever employed. The organisation was called Blue Sky (after Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballard of Reading Gaol). They merged with substance misuse charity RAPt to form The Forward Trust last year, and I’m still employed by them in their Employment Division supporting people like myself (though I’ve had a bit of a promotion since!)
I never in a million years thought all those years ago I’d end up where I am, but it goes to show that if you give people the right opportunities, amazing things can happen.
I never in a million years thought all those years ago I’d end up where I am, but it goes to show that if you give people the right opportunities, amazing things can happen. Having a criminal record doesn’t mean a lifetime of unemployment – I’m living proof of that. It’s an honour to be able to support people who faced the same challenges I did to make a new life for themselves.
I’m a charity founder, hardworking employee and I’m More Than My Past.