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Story Type: Show your Conviction

Finding my place in the world through volunteering at Unlock

I was convicted of a serious offence towards the end of 2013.  As a result, I lost my job, my reputation and my self-esteem and I attempted suicide during the police investigation.  My wife, my family and most of my friends stood by me, but I had lost many things that were important to me.  After several unsuccessful job applications I thought I would never work again.

Unlock advertised for volunteers in Spring 2014 and, having used the helpline and the information hub, I decided to apply.  I was invited for interview and Chris, Debbie and the rest of the team were very welcoming.

I got the job and worked two days each week doing administrative work in the office.  Chris and Debbie could see that I had much to offer and I set to work on a list of tasks that they had wanted to do but never found the time.

As well as enjoying the work, I also enjoyed the social interaction in the office and I enjoyed putting on a shirt and trousers and travelling to work each day.  I felt normal again!

I think I made a positive contribution to the work of Unlock in the time I was there, but the best thing for me personally was when Debbie asked me to represent Unlock at a training workshop in London.  I travelled up on the train, took part in the discussion, made some new contacts and came back with some useful information.  This might seem strange, but it made such a difference to how I felt about myself.  These were things that I did all the time in my old job, but now I felt normal again and part of the working world.  Yes, I could still do it!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was offered permanent paid employment a short time later.  An old friend with his own business had a vacancy, he knew I could do a job for him and knew that I was trying hard to help myself.

However, I had “unfinished business” at Unlock.  Chris and Debbie had been very good to me and I could not let them down.  I did one day a week for a few weeks after I started my new job and finished off some work that I wanted to finish for Unlock.

I hope you will see from the above that Unlock helped me to find my place in the world after a very traumatic experience.  They helped me to get back to work, but more than that I also made some new friends.  We have kept in touch and I intend to keep it that way.

Thank you Unlock!

By Dave* (name changed to protect identity)

Banning the Box and the Demands for Disclosure – Part 1

It’s a sobering thought when you’re sat there, faced with three strangers you’ve never met: the panel at your job interview has more information about your criminal record than a jury would if you were on trial. And, in a capitalist economy where we all have to earn a living, employers are every bit as powerful an influence on your life as judges.

In a criminal trial, the jury is not allowed to know if you have a previous conviction. This is to make sure they aren’t prejudiced against you so that you get a fair trial. Research with mock juries has shown that jurors are likely to believe a defendant guilty if they know the defendant has been convicted a similar crime in the past. So it’s probable that interview panels are more likely to believe people with convictions might commit a crime while they’re employing them if they know about previous convictions. But, with one in five unemployed people having a criminal record, how are they supposed to get a fair interview if they’ve already had to disclose their convictions to the potential employer on their application form?

Some employers make sure that interview panels aren’t shown your disclosure so that they aren’t prejudiced. Many do not. And many small firms don’t have an HR dept., it’s just the boss, your application form, you and your record. So it’s impossible to remove prejudice. And that’s exactly why ‘Ban the Box’ action is crucial.

The practice of employers seeking a disclosure is very common, according to one survey carried out for British Industry in the Community (BITC) it’s a staggering 73%. In response, one year ago, BITC supported by Nacro, Unlock and others, launched the UK’s own Ban the Box campaign, #bantheboxuk.

The idea is to work with employers to get them to remove the criminal convictions question (‘the box’) from application forms and only ask about convictions at a later stage in the process – this varies depending on the employer, but many instead ask at interview.

So, imagine being in an interview in your forties and being quizzed about the worst and most stupid thing you did in your teens. Does that seem like a reasonable interview question to you? No? Well, that’s exactly the kind of situation people with convictions face every day.

Emotionally, it can be a truly gruelling process. Even the most well-meaning of employers, like charities who work with the disadvantaged, walk you back through the worst time in your life, get you to talk about what was going on for you at the time, assess your level of regret and remorse then thank you very much for your honesty and show you the door. If they don’t give you the job, there was absolutely no need for them to put you through that or for them to have that information. It’s an invasion of privacy of the highest order, and many people who’ve been through it never again seek work from employers who behave that way.

If employers ask about records on application, it means everyone who applies needs to make a disclosure, even though only one person – the successful candidate – ever really needs to. All the other applicants and interviewees are just members of the public with no legal obligation to disclose or undergo a DBS check. Their offending isn’t relevant to the employer because they are not employed, and are not going to be. So they should be able to exit the recruitment process with their privacy and dignity intact, shouldn’t they?

This is Part 1. More to follow….

You can read more about Ban the Box at

Success with The Prince’s Trust

Here’s a great success story that shows what can be done with the right kind of support – Kash Flow


Disclosing to employers, dealing with rejection and being persistent

I’m currently on my way to London to give a training session on ‘disclosing criminal convictions to employers’.  “Been there, done that” I think.  It’s been almost three years to the day since I walked out of those prison gates – no job, middle-aged and back to living with my parents.

Wow – so much has changed.  I’ve got a job I love, working with people with convictions, giving them advice on what and how to disclose their convictions.  I’m renting my own house now and going on a holiday abroad next month for the first time in 8 years.

Sounds like I’ve had it easy.  But I’ve been through the same as many of you reading this.

I left prison full of hope for the future.  My personal officer told me that I’d been punished for my crime, and that I could now leave all that behind me and concentrate on the future.  “You’ve still got the same skills you came into prison with and lot’s more besides” she said.  She’s right.  I’ve almost got a degree, courtesy of the Open University, and I’ve learnt 101 ways to use tinfoil courtesy of my cell mates (not sure that’s going to come in quite as handy!)

I had my first job interview 2 weeks after coming home.  It went well.  Small company, new offices and I immediately built up a good rapport with the interviewer.  This job’s mine I thought.  “Any other questions” the interviewer asked.  I disclosed my conviction.  He looked stunned and said “Why did you have to tell me that?  You were without doubt the best person for the job but now I know about your conviction, you are too much of a risk”.  I tried to explain that I didn’t see myself as a risk – “I see my probation officer every week, I don’t want to re-offend, I can’t afford to do anything wrong.  I’ve learnt my lesson, paid the price ……..blah, blah, blah”.  He was very kind but no job.  He should be proud – it was the best rejection ever.

I lost count of the number of jobs I applied for – hundreds.  Most didn’t answer at all, some told me I didn’t have enough experience and a few invited me for interviews.  After that 1st experience I didn’t disclose my criminal conviction at interview anymore, I and managed to secure 3 jobs.  As soon as I got a job offer, I told them that I had a conviction – it was a specific condition of my licence that I had to disclose to employers. Of course, at that stage, the offer would be revoked.

I truly believed I was a positive person but boy, those rejections started to really knock my confidence.  It was hard living back at home again but with no job I couldn’t afford to move out.  As my self-confidence hit an all-time low, I applied to do some voluntary work with ex-offenders.  After a great interview, great news – they wanted me.  They thought I had lots to offer, I could be a real asset. They even said they may be able to offer me paid work at some time in the future.

I volunteered just one day a week but in that time, I began to get my self-belief back.  I felt valued, I had a purpose in life again and it gave me the confidence to I throw myself once again in applying for paid work.  Several months after release, I got a part-time paid job – working in retail.  Never done it before but I was upbeat and decided that this would now be my future.  I’d work hard, get promoted and that’s exactly what happened.  I started to be offered more hours until part time became full time, I was then asked to go for promotion and got offered a supervisors role with the promise of a managers assessment after 6 months.  I gained more knowledge, got more confident and then saw an advert for my current job.

I’ve never wanted to be defined by my time in prison but, it has had a massive impact on the person I am today.  I always wanted to use this experience in a positive way and when I saw my current job being advertised I felt that potentially it could be my ‘dream job’.

Disclosing convictions is never easy, however many times you do it but the interviewers tried to put me at ease and I was as honest and upfront as I could be.  After a long 2 week wait, the news I had been waiting for – success.

I’ve had good days and bad days in my search for employment.  There is a lot of negativity about getting a job with a conviction but at the end of the day it only takes one person to give you a second chance and those people are out there.   You certainly have to work harder to sell yourself and you will definitely hit some brick walls along the way.  You might not be able to work in the field you did prior to conviction – look “outside the box”.  This might be just the time to go into a new career, train in something new, set up your own business – the possibilities are endless.

Rehabilitation, Rejection and Resilience

by Simon


I was very pleased to find out that the reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) will apply from 10th March. I was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment in March 2004, and thought that I would have to declare my criminal conviction for life but, given the changes, my conviction will now become ‘spent’ – 7 years after my Sentence Expiry Date.

I’ll outline some of the mixed experiences I’ve had, and reactions I’ve faced, when declaring my conviction. Some will resonate with you and some might help prepare others for the challenges ahead.

Initially, I was lucky and did not encounter many barriers to resettlement. A friend offered me labouring work during the day and my old school, who were aware of my imprisonment, gave me cleaning work in the evenings. Seen together, these opportunities – and that’s how they had to be viewed – helped both financially and by providing a routine that kept me busy. Crucially, though, this meant that I didn’t have to run the gauntlet of potential rejection from employers. I wondered how, with such a fragile self-esteem, and having just left prison, I would have coped with further alienation.

After about 18 months my friend could no longer provide any work and the evening job became too much, so I found myself seeking other employment. I went for a ‘front of house’ position in a local café. As I filled the application form out with the manager sat opposite, I saw the dreaded ‘Do you have a criminal record?’ question. I lied and put ‘no.’ I reasoned that it was just a cafe job, and ‘they wouldn’t even begin to understand, if I told them.’ I needed that job.

This lie did not come back and bite me, but that is not the point. My family brought me up to be open and honest – and those are values that I hold dear in principle – but, in practice, and in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t face what I assumed would be a rejection, so I did not tell the truth.

Whilst I would always advocate honesty about a criminal past, I now have an insight and an understanding into why some people decide not to declare. Is it a dishonest nature, an assumption of a bad outcome or a fear of the hurt caused by yet another rejection that can drive certain behaviours?

I left the cafe with my dark secret undiscovered and, luckily, another friend then provided work in a warehouse in Northamptonshire. As with the previous building and cleaning roles, this bypassed the need for a criminal record check and so, by the time I had finished at the warehouse in August 2008, I had held four jobs since prison and had only faced one criminal record check. I wonder whether most people are as fortunate as this?

The ideal exchange between potential employer and employee did occur, however, when I decided to return to University and I would advocate this approach, rather than the method that I adopted with the cafe. I wrote a personal statement outlining my past, in support of my application. I outlined mitigating factors to the offence, but also emphasised the positives prior to and after my imprisonment. Emphasising the good and making the bad appear smaller worked because every University that I applied to offered a place. It was re-assuring to think that people were prepared to give an ex-prisoner a second chance and that an open, upfront letter had won plaudits. It confirmed my suspicions that many people respond to a positive approach in kind.

Life has run reasonably smoothly over the last few years, but I’ve twice needed to ring UNLOCK for advice over two other CRB related incidents. In the first example, I declared my conviction on an application form for a criminology research role in the East of England. I was offered the job, despite my conviction but, later, the human resources people wanted to know more about the offence. So, I attended a second interview, which was incredibly stressful. Thankfully, the charity continued with their offer of employment but, because of the sensitive location and nature of the project, they attached certain conditions: I must not tell my colleague about my past and, for the first month, I had to sit in a separate part of the building, away from the rest of the team.

My line manager and the senior managers were, on balance, very supportive throughout and even they were not sure whether what they were doing was appropriate. I was treated differently because of my conviction and that not only hurt, it re-enforced the sense of ‘difference’ that many people with convictions feel.

In my mind, I had to take a mature approach: ‘play the game;’ be ‘squeaky clean;’ do a good job and learn from my experience.

Things worked out, but only because I communicated how I was feeling and staff kept supporting me. Not every employer and employee dynamic works like this. I feel for those who are not great communicators, feel unsupported or have poor employers. I wonder what the costs are, in psychological terms, of feeling under scrutiny because of your past, and why some people with convictions still have to go the ‘extra mile’?

The second incident is perhaps more commonplace. I signed up at a local recruitment agency, declared my conviction on the application form and was taken onto the books. However, later that day I received a phone call from the recruitment consultant who apologised stating that, at first glance, she had not noticed the tick in the convictions box. She had phoned head office and was sorry to say that I could not be employed. Company policy would not register anyone with convictions regardless of their offence. The consultant, who admittedly was toeing the party line, even said that ‘it doesn’t matter whether you are a murderer or have stolen a pack of sweets, we treat everyone the same.’ UNLOCK said that they had not broken the law but this misguided attempt at equal opportunity, or lack of it, by ‘treating everyone equally’ is not common sense or logical and is obviously an example of the attitudes that some employers hold.

Now that the reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act are a reality, it feels like all the heartache was worth it. I believe if you do the right things, eventually society will do right by you – even if it hasn’t in the past. It’s important to be upfront and honest – at least you maintain your integrity, even if you don’t get that particular job.

I understand taking the moral high ground is little comfort if you’re unemployed, but definitely focus on the positives and try to make the bad stuff appear smaller and less important. Keep going and believe that someone will give you a break somewhere. Research, seek out and network with user-friendly organisations that support people with convictions and always emphasise that you are far more than an offence on a piece of paper.

Poem – Nettle-Eater

from ‘The Life of Milarepa‘ by Thaye Dorje

In my youth I committed black deeds.
In maturity I practised innocence.
To say more than this would only cause weeping and laughter.
What good would it do to tell you?
I am an old man.
Leave me in peace.

Brendan’s Bridge


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.

Junior James; A different deal

diffrent-junior-jamesby Richard, Editor of theRecord

Junior James is a fascinating man, a ‘larger-than-life’ character who oozes energy and enthusiasm. He’s gone from being a busy, but never happy, drug dealer to a NOMS ‘Service User of the Year’ via a spell inside. He made best use of his time in prison by taking advantage of every training and education opportunity he was given, and is now committed to helping others break out of a criminal lifestyle. However, when going through all this, he became aware of one of the major shortcomings with what is on offer for prisoners and was recently quoted in The Voice on-line as saying that it would be particularly useful for courses on entrepreneurship to be available.

Now, ‘entrepreneur’ can mean any number of things in reality, from the likes of Richard Branson and the ‘Dragons’ in TV’s den to someone running a hot-dog stall at a festival or setting up a shelter for the homeless . So I rang him to ask him what he meant: “Being self-employed, mate. That’s the crux of it. It’s all very well giving training courses and helping people getting qualifications, but if you’ve got a record, no-one’s gonna want to employ you, so you’ve got to do it yourself.” And, by and large, he’s right. As we chat we agree that there are a few enlightened employers out there, but not many. We agree that what people need is to learn how to run a business either for just themselves or to employ others. And anyone who’s tried it will tell you it’s not all plain sailing and counting your money. A very high proportion of new businesses go under in the first three years and there’s a lot to learn and a lot at stake. And preparation and knowing what you’re getting yourself into is key to success.

So, keen make best use of his time, put right past mistakes, encourage other not to get involved in dealing and to put his money where his mouth is, Junior took to writing. He first started in prison, showed a few pages to a few mates, got some good feedback about this wit and his style and so carried on. He writes about his life and the way he used to live in in a way that gets to the truth of the paranoia, the fear and the stress that is so often overlooked by young people who see only the money, the status and the bling on offer with a coke-dealer’s trade. He’s funny, direct and real and he’s working on his third book now. The first two, Different, Parts 1 & 2, are available on his website: Check him out, he’s different.

‘In It’ by Jonathan Robinson: a Review

Review by Richard

This is one book that definitely needed to be written. In It is one man’s journey through the prison system and it gives a very clear view of what works and doesn’t work within that system. What works is the opportunity for prisoners to reflect on what brought them into prison. What doesn’t work is just about everything else except security – and even that was imperfect.

Robinson, a trained pilot and flying instructor who robbed his employer to impress his wife with money, struggles from day one with the uncoordinated and, at times, crazy bureaucracy that prevails throughout the system. The core message of the book is that prison simply does not work as a method for civilising the uncivilised and educating the uneducated. But there’s the rub: that is not what the majority of the British population at large want it to be. Most people simply expect the prison service to lock people up and punish them for their crimes, and that is exactly what it does. However, the very high re-offending rate that results from this approach is something that both policy makers and the author himself try to address.

Through his experience and his writing Robinson spends his entire sentence struggling to come to terms with the difference between what he thinks prison ought to be, “a thriving, self-sufficient, enthusiastic [place] whose occupants … put back in what they’ve been given,”  a place run by  “enthusiastic staff who give praise [and] good leadership” thus making it an “Efficient, happy ship,” and what it actually is: a place with “Prisoners prevailing in bed, the odious repulsive food littered around the battleground dining room set-dressed by huge slovenly quantities of unwashed plates making up the scenery.”

The book is structured as a day-by-day diary recorded in as-it-happened notes, and this is both a revealing insight into the everyday life of a prisoner but also the book’s biggest weakness. Although he says in the epilogue that a lot of material has been edited out the book still suffers from being at least fifty percent longer than it needs to be to make the point – just as many prison sentences are. What comes through well is the way in which minor snags and an unresponsive system give rise to unnecessary frustrations and routine basic injustices, such not having clothes that fit or food that is edible. All of his very valid observations could have been made without much of the irrelevant details that fill the book and it would have benefitted hugely form being better edited. Although, as Robinson points out, when you have no control or influence over your life, minor issue take on a huge significance and “These life shattering events are important in prison.”

Although repeatedly remorseful about his crime, Robinson still comes across as expecting the National Offender Management Service to be a super-efficient customer service department whose purpose is to improve his opportunities and those of his fellow inmates. This it clearly is not. But, as he points out, there seems to be no justification for the appalling waste of energy, both human and material, that results from prisoners not working during their time inside and the huge amount of money being wasted on unnecessary heating bills and dozens of other inefficiencies.

Despite the strange use of punctuation and speech marks throughout the book, and the lack of thorough editing, Robinson writes well. His metaphor of prison as a film set and each event as a scene played out by characters who he often names after film stars gives a vivid sense of the personalities involved and brings great humour to a tragic set of circumstances. Highly recommended reading for anyone involved in criminal justice policy.

In It is available to purchase as an eBook from Amazon.

Poem – Penrose steps

One. This is the first step. Star gazing, whilst we are plain sailing. And the moon phasing. Singing a tune that only you and I know.


Two. Light exploding, pain slowing down every breath that I take. I can only dream. Life and its lies, little pleas. Stare at me, dangerously.

Three. Entropy. Particles stop colliding. Friends who stop confiding. Shadows fall. Ignored calls. I could have given more, but we stall.

Four. Back up, reality, a paper cut a tiny wound, stinging with venom, relentlessly, intensely, condenses me, darkness senses thee, destroys me, spoils me like an only son. Star-gazing, moon phasing. Singing, again. Back to the beginning.


by Anonymous

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