The 1990s were not the most successful years of my life. Even now at a distance of 18 years it is still difficult to see where the success of being elected on to my local Metropolitan Borough Council, and the rapid rise through its hierarchy to the position of Vice-Chair of the Education Committee, gave way to mental illness and serious crime some 5 years later.
In the late 80’s, I had my leg smashed when a car drove through my garden wall crushing me as I opened my front door. In that brief moment my career and way of life was lost. I spent three years and several periods of hospitalisation having my physical injuries repaired. Unfortunately, coming from ‘down-to-earth’ northern stock I refused to recognise the toll that these injuries and my enforced incapacity was having on my mental health. Despite the success at being selected and elected to the council my idea of a career in public service was destroyed by a total nervous breakdown and divorce from my long suffering wife.
In the mid 90’s I was deselected by my party due to drink related incidents that brought shame on me and embarrassment to the party. This came as a result of my refusal to see I was in trouble mentally, as well as physically, and my rejection of the many attempts to offer a helping hand from family and friends. In 1995 with unemployment and divorce a reality, I took the enormous step of moving to London with vague notions of starting again. In London I had several friends who I am proud to say have remained loyal friends to this day. However as my physical health improved my mental health disintegrated and I found myself in July 1996 without money, in rent arrears and in a stubborn mind-set that dictated I would seek no help from any quarter. It was in a state of mental collapse that I decided to solve all my problems by robbing a bank. I have no idea where a 36 year old former councillor and professional man gets the idea that this is a good career move.
It was not, and in a state of agitation and distress I was taken into police custody inside a bank I tried to rob in the City of London. Given the political realities of the 1990s with IRA activities a very real threat, I was lucky not to be killed. Indeed my psychiatrist concluded that my actions could be construed as an attempt at suicide, albeit a subconscious one. In any event given my offences I was treated leniently and was jailed for five years. Prison proved to be an oasis away from drink and unemployment, both of which contribute hugely to depression. I also received the much needed mental health therapy I needed.
In 1999 after two and a half years in prison and two Open University modules completed I was granted parole. Whilst this was welcome I was very aware of the reality of my situation. I was now an ex-con entering middle age with no prospects and no employment. I quickly found work driving a van for a parcel delivery company. This I obtained by ignoring the advice of my probation officer, ticking no on the employment agency application form relating to previous convictions.
I have since realised just how lucky I am not to have been caught doing this as I may well have gone back to prison. However, I did not repeat this dishonesty and set about applying for jobs. I sent out many CVs always including my convictions and a brief description of how they came about. I tried to down play them as far as possible and concentrate on my positive past experiences. I reasoned that if I was lucky enough to get an interview then at least I would have an equal chance at getting the post as the HR department would be in possession of all the facts prior to short listing.
Six months after leaving prison I was called for interview by an advertising company looking to recruit and train advert hands to put up the advertising displays on London Underground. I attended and was astonished at how well the interview went and how positive the panel seemed to view my CV. At the end the chairman and soon to be boss asked me directly if I was a professional criminal or could he believe me that this was an aberration I was not going to repeat. I thought this a fair question and just reiterated what I put in my application. He gave me the job there and then. I was able to pass the Underground’s medical and spent seven happy years there until deterioration of my knee joint forced me to quit. It turned out that my boss had a brother who had done a very similar thing to me and had had an awful time trying to get into employment. He told me he had promised himself if he could he would offer work to ex-offenders.
My next employer was a well-known firm of bookmakers who took me on despite my record, and whilst I had to leave due to a recurrence of mental health issues in 2009, I can honestly say the HR department looked at my record, offered me the job and never referred to it again.
Personally, I would urge anyone with unspent convictions to include them in the application they send to prospective employers and voluntary bodies for two reasons. The first is that an upfront and honest declaration will be received far more favourably than the awkward moment in the interview where the inevitable question is asked about unspent convictions. The second point is related to the first in that whilst there are employers who will reject people with criminal convictions out of hand, it is better they do that at an early stage and not waste your time or give you false hope.
Maybe I have been lucky but, I have had no more trouble getting and keeping jobs than my peers who have no convictions, and I spend my working life working confident in the knowledge that I have nothing to hide.
There is work after convictions and I wish you all good luck in finding it.