Oscar was released from prison in 2001 having served 10 years of a life sentence. In his opinion, the increase in criminal record checks and the fact that employers have become a lot more risk averse over recent years means that it’s a lot harder to find a job now than it was 15 years ago.
I was convicted of murder in 1990 and served a 10 year sentence. Instead of getting bogged down in prison with petty activities, I used my time in a constructive manner and enrolled on many courses as well as applying to do an Open University degree. I achieved many qualifications and a degree in psychology prior to my release and I saw these as my tools to face the outside world and be instrumental in helping me open a few doors.
I was released in 2001 on licence, moved in with my family and immediately started applying for jobs. I applied for over 400 within a six month period but to no avail with the exception of 7 replies stating:
“Sorry you have not been successful on this occasion.”
I was not only disheartened, I was demoralised with the fact that I was willing to offer my skills and was only seeking a fair chance on an equal footing.
Whilst applying for jobs, I worked as a valet operator, motor mechanic assistant and any odd job I could lay my hands on. But these were not the occupations I was interested in. I wanted a job comparable to my skills, knowledge and the desire to help others develop. At that time it seemed like a distant dream but I never gave up and became more focused using targeted applications. It was not easy and with every day that passed without success the struggle became insurmountable.
Hey presto! My perseverance paid off. I was invited to attend an interview by a local training provider for an Office Administrator position. I was asked about my skills and knowledge, all aspects of my conviction, my attitude and outlook on life etc. Even before I got home, I’d received a telephone call offering me the job. I worked for the company for 12 years and during that time was promoted several times to eventually become their Education Manager.
I helped many disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and taught local college students and staff from Council’s, colleges and local businesses. I had access to all kinds of databases and personal information and worked hard to overcome the occasional discrimination and barriers which came up as a result of my criminal record. However, these oddities are part of life and one has to face them with dignity and use them as a fuel to step forward.
Unfortunately the company I was working for closed down as a result of funding cuts from government and I was made redundant. I started applying again for other jobs armed with the fact that not only had I put my conviction behind me but I had also gained significant experience and up to date knowledge with a reputable organisation.
I applied for 25 jobs in 6 months and attended 15 interviews. I went on to receive 6 job offers which were all withdrawn for different reasons – “pre-employment checks were not satisfactory”, “difficult for our partners to get security clearance” and “offer withdrawn on the advice of our HR department”. At no time did I withhold information about my conviction and I was always willing to discuss it at the interview.
Having been signing on for a while, the job centre decided to refer me to the Work Programme because I was struggling to find a job. The first thing the Work Programme advisor told me was to attend an Entry Level 3 course to learn how to write a CV and fill in application forms. This was regardless of the fact that my CV showed that I had previously designed and taught such courses myself. When I challenged the advisor he told me that I needed to be realistic about my prospects and it is a requirement to attend the courses or be sanctioned. I chose to sign off instead of being demoralised and diminished due to their inability to support me.
I have not given up yet and have started work on a self-employed basis and exploring other options such as being a trades-person. Before signing off benefits and starting on this journey I knew that I had to be prepared to face financial and emotional hardship. Work is scarce and hardly any money has been coming in for the last 6 months. But my wife and I do a bit of catering for small parties to make ends meet.
We live in a society whereby ordinary people are faced with severe hardship and have to rely on foodbanks to survive. It is all about survival of the fittest and that means the choice is ours to define and shape our level of fitness by making difficult and challenging choices.
By Oscar (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
Oscar’s achievements since his release from prison 16 years ago begs an important question – what value is there is making him continue to disclose his past offence to potential employers? Yes, it was a very serious one, but he has clearly changed his life. Under the current rules, his conviction will remain “unspent” for the rest of his life.
Stories like Oscar’s is why we are pushing for fundamental reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and why we believe there needs to be a way to seal criminal records.
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