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Strange City, Fresh Start, New Life

G Leighphone

In 2006, after serving two years of a four year sentence for manslaughter, I found myself in a government hostel in a strange city. Within a week I registered with the local Job Centre, but every time I had to fill in the disclosure part of an application form, it was like I was writing “put me in the bin” in bright neon letters. I went to employment agencies and they couldn’t wait to get me out door.  One told me that I should come back in ten years, and then they might consider putting me on their books. Then they rapidly even escorted me out of the building; which was completely unnecessary – but more about them later.

After three months of this, I was climbing the walls. So I started working with a Job Centre worker who regularly came to the hostel. I continued to apply for jobs, but I still wasn’t even getting to the interview stage. Then I was asked if I would be interested in going on a work experience scheme run by an organisation called Business in the Community.  This is a group started, funded and run by local businesses in the city aiming to give something back to the community by helping homeless people get a step into employment by giving them work experience and so help them get that first all-important reference. I jumped at the chance. If nothing else, it would at least lift the boredom of unemployment. And, for once, my conviction was not a barrier because their focus was on the homelessness aspect. However, I was made aware that any business which gave me work experience would need to be told about my conviction, but I would have the opportunity to tell them first myself.

To begin with, we had a group meeting every week and we would work with mentors. The mentor was someone from one of the businesses who would help us to write our CV and practice interviews. My mentor was a trainee solicitor from a large law firm.

Soon we were all offered interviews with a local business. The interview was very informal, and that helped me with my nerves. It was at this interview that I told the interviewer about my conviction. She didn’t even bat an eyelid!

The interview was a success and I started I was working in the Human Resources Department. It was the first time since my conviction that I felt people saw me as a person with skills and a personality, not just a conviction. I started off doing the smaller admin jobs, but soon I was accompanying them on job interviews and typing them up. It was a huge step forward.

I ended up being on placement with them for about two months, and I had impressed them – I think mainly because I was just so enthusiastic to have something productive to do. Plus, it turned out that the agency which had told me to come back in ten years was the main agency this law firm used, and Human Resources were not happy about the way I had been treated. They phoned the agency and gave them a very posh bollocking, and said that they were going to have to look into it further as the way the agency has acted conflicted with the law firm’s diversity policies. As a result, the agency promptly put me on their books.

I went on to work in two other departments within the law firm, and I was given more and more responsibility. When my placement came to an end I didn’t want to go but, luckily, the people I had been working with didn’t want me to go either, so the management put a business plan together to produce a position for me.  I had an interview for the role, and I was hired!

Within twelve months I was awarded Newcomer of Year, plus I got promoted from Admin Clerk to Junior Legal Secretary. Three years later I was a senior secretary, and seven years later I am still at the same law firm.

The firm still employs people from the Business in the Community scheme on a regular basis, and I got to know three of them. One had an alcohol addiction, one had got involved in dealing drugs and another had lost his previous job because he had been done for assault – which led to being fired automatically. As far as I know, two of the three are still working there.

So, for anyone leaving prison, I would recommend that you find out if there is a Business in the Community programme in your area or anything similar (your local Job Centre should know), plus do consider working for nothing as you will reap the rewards later. Also, willingly accept all the help and information you can get. I would also recommend that anyone leaving prison should apply for jobs in corporate, or at least large, companies because they have employment targets for things such as diversity. And they will have a Human Resources Department which is separate from the rest of the company, so they have a more objective view; and they are more educated on the implications of discrimination etc. when it comes to job applicants.

Finally, remember that nothing pays off better than showing your enthusiasm to work!

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