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by Brendan

Not many people I know say that they love their job, but I love mine.  I get the opportunity to work with people who are at a pivotal point in their life, where the decisions they make from this point forward can have a massive impact on the rest of their lives.   I get the opportunity to try and influence these decisions and show them that they do have options and with hard work, strong willpower and determination and a little support they can make changes.

I found myself at this pivotal point three years ago; my gambling addiction had spiralled out of control once again and I found myself serving a prison sentence for theft from employer.  This was my second time inside for the same offence.   I had reached my rock bottom.  My whole world had been turned upside down again, I had lost my job, my home and everything that I had re-built was shattered.  I was lucky enough to still have the support of my now wife and my family. Without this support god knows what I may have done.

I signed up to a vocational training course whilst in prison and couldn’t believe the number of people that were lacking basic functional skills.  Men of all ages who could not read or write or perform basic tasks that I took for granted.  I found myself spending most of my time on this course helping others with grammar, spelling and basic comprehension.  I felt a great sense of achievement each time I was able to offer some help or advice to others and made a decision there and then that this is what I wanted to do for a career.

I was asked to stay on as a Learning Support Assistant for the rest of my time whilst still in Prison, which I gladly did.  Once I was discharged from prison I found that there was a similar project being run close to where I lived and I decided that I wanted to continue to be involved, so I became a Volunteer at The Bridge, an alternative to custody project where offenders are given the opportunity to improve their situations by being given access to support, guidance and training.

Becoming a Volunteer wasn’t a straight forward process as Essex Probation had a strict 2 year’s grace policy where they required their volunteers to be “trouble free”.  So I wrote to the Head of Essex Probation and as a result they decided to change their policy as they felt that it would be good for the project to have an ex-offender working within it.

I am fortunate enough to have plenty of work experience behind me and fell into a position working as a full time as a Chef, working 5 or 6 days a week whilst volunteering at The Bridge every Wednesday.  This went on for about 14 months and during this time I was given access to various training and sent on a PTLLS course which allowed me to become a Tutor.  When a position became available to work as a Tutor I immediately applied for it.  There were quite a few applicants for the position, but I felt that I had an excellent chance of getting the position as I had the relevant skills, qualities, experience and training.  All of which had been provided by the company I wanted to work for.

Well, as you have probably gathered, I got the job and have never looked back.  The project is now being run by SOVA on contract to Essex Probation.  I feel that I am a valuable part of SOVA and believe that my contributions to the project are worthwhile and have a lasting impact.  I am open and honest about my past convictions with participants, and feel that by doing this I am able to reach out to some of the more challenging individuals and offer them some hope so that they can make positive changes in their lives and break the cycle of offending.

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