Skip to main content

Tag: Education -

Call for participants: university applications

Call for evidence: university admissions

Have you applied to university with a criminal record? Had to disclose? Been successful or rejected?

We’d like to hear from you.

Since 2018 we have been working with universities to develop fair admissions for students with criminal records. We want to hear the experiences of applicants and students with criminal records so we can help universities and colleges improve their approach. If you were treated unfairly, tell us about it. We also want to hear positive experiences of disclosure and support. Our fair admissions pledge is a way for universities to let applicants know they will be treated fairly – but we’d like to hear from people who have applied.

We want to hear from people with criminal records who have applied for any university course in the last three years. Please tell us:

  • The courses and universities you applied to
  • Did you have to disclose an unspent or spent conviction?
  • What happened next – were you asked for more information, was there an admissions panel?
  • What was the decision?
  • If you were unsuccessful, did you apply somewhere else?
  • If you were successful, did you need and/or receive any support throughout your course?
  • Were you given careers advice that was relevant to your conviction?
  • Anything else you’d like to tell us

The information you provide will not be shared without your permission, and will help us to improve access to education for people with criminal records.

Email us in confidence at university@unlock.org.uk

I’ve been fortunate that my stupidity hasn’t been held against me

On paper Keith’s conviction for arson sounds terrible but, the key to his success has been his ability to disclose it openly and honestly to any college/university or employer that asks.

 

I left home at the age of 16 and for the next two years stayed with one of my best mates and his family.

By the time I was 18 I was holding down a job and had managed to rent my own home. I had some good mates and every now and again, I did what every 18 years old does, I met up with friends, had a few too many drinks and got drunk. However, for me, the consequences were far more serious.

On the day in question, I’d been to the pub and then invited several friends back to mine for a barbeque. Just as we were about to light it, the rain started and, probably due to the influence of drink, I decided it would be a good idea to move the barbeque close to the back door. Unfortunately this led to the kitchen door catching alight.

One of my friends called the fire service but we’d actually managed to put the fire out before they arrived. However, my landlord reported the incident to the police and I was convicted of arson and received a community order. In my opinion, ‘arson’ sounds a whole lot worse than what happened that day – 30 years ago.

Five years after I was convicted, I applied to run a summer play scheme for children from the ages of 5 – 11 years of age; I’m pleased to say that my application was successful.

For the past 10 years I’ve been doing voluntary community work on a local housing estate and at the same time I also studied with the Open University and gained a degree in mathematics and astronomy.

Last summer I applied to do teacher training. I already had a DBS certificate for my voluntary role and I’d signed up for the DBS Update Service so it was relatively easy for the teacher training college to see my DBS certificate. I nervously handed over the hard copy of the certificate and disclosed my conviction only to be told that I needed to meet with the Safeguarding Officer.

I was really anxious about the meeting but again, I disclosed the conviction and explained the circumstances surrounding it. The Safeguarding Officer told me

When someone applies for the course with a conviction, we look at two things. One is the offence, the circumstances and would it make the person a danger to children and adults. The other is would the offence stop that person from gaining employment as a teacher. In both of these, the answer is no – so welcome onboard.”

I’m now three months away from qualifying as a teacher and my life has completely changed. I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time and I’m looking forward to the next stage.

I don’t cherish the feeling that I’ll always have to declare my conviction and I know that I may not get some teaching positions because of it. My crime was not malicious or nasty, it was a naïve 18 year old being stupid and foolish. It’s part of my past which I’m not proud of but accept that it happened and have now shown society what I’m capable of, and where I want to go.

By Keith  (name changed to protect identity)

Useful links

I was rejected from university because of my record, now I’m campaigning for fair treatment

I didn’t really ever class myself as an academic when I was younger. I didn’t engage at school – learning just didn’t seem to be something I was interested in. But when I found myself at Her Majesty’s Pleasure aged 21 it was a pivotal point in my life. Being away from normality and being isolated gave me the opportunity to draw a better perspective of my own life. I decided I needed to pull my finger out and do more – there are no excuses now, I thought, the opportunity was there for me to change my life and I’d be the fool not to take it; no-one else was going to do it for me.

The first course that I engaged in was a carpentry course. Picking up a saw for me was like trying to read Japanese, but I took to it, and really enjoyed it. That’s what really fuelled the desire to do more, and I did. I took every practical course that was available. I would never have imagined myself to become interested in things like that, but I surprised myself and I think every day I continue to surprise myself. I’m so keen to learn now.

Post-prison, one of the biggest problems I faced was not being able to gain employment. I had all these skills, all these new qualifications but nowhere to apply them. So I took it upon myself to carve my own way and create my own opportunities. I started a small building maintenance company. We now maintain a portfolio of 1,200 properties and employ anywhere up to 25 people at one time. We’re doing alright!

I enjoy my job, but I want to do more. I can still feel this fire burning and I just want to go out there and do a lot more; to continue to push and challenge myself. A skill I’ve always had, but never really known what to do with, is the ability to draw. I was really fortunate to gain the work experience at a film studio after release, where I learnt to draft or technically draw. I enjoyed creating film sets and really challenging myself to create scale drawings and props that would be used on set. It was the first time I thought, ‘I can really do this’.

That’s why, last year, I started looking into doing a degree in architecture. I found a university in London, put together a portfolio, and applied. When I received an offer of a place I was elated; I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was going to be the start of something new. But then, on the day of enrolment, the university withdrew my application. In an email, they said the reason for reversing their decision was the fact of my criminal record. This was despite the fact it was an offence I had committed in 2009, and I was fully discharged in 2012 with no restrictions against me as an individual.

I was destroyed, heartbroken. I’m still a little bit gobsmacked to be honest. But I’m not happy to lie down and just accept this. I feel it is necessary to fight for change. That’s why I’m joining PET, The Longford Trust and Unlock in their campaign to encourage universities to give people with convictions a fair chance. From personal experience, I understand how damaging this sort of rejection can be for the individual. I don’t believe universities or any form of higher education institution should be willing to knock back someone just because of their criminal record – I think ex-offenders, reformed characters; whatever you want to call them – have a lot to offer: a lot of ambition, a lot of drive, a lot of passion. We probably make the best students just for the sheer fact that we want it so desperately. I’m a firm believer it’s so important to be able to give people the chance to be more and to do more with their lives.

I often say I’ve got a lot further on in the last few years post-prison than I ever did at the beginning of my life, and that’s all because of how I believe in myself and how other people have begun to believe in me as well. My family and the friends I surround myself with now are really keen for me to embark on this journey. They see something in me. It’s nice to have that from people – it’s a different kind of feeling and relationship from what I’ve known in the past. Seeing me get into university raised their confidence in me, and I think they feel the pain of my current situation too – the knockbacks, the obstacles – they just want me to go on to succeed.

I’m still in a struggle at the moment to find a university that will take me on and give me an opportunity. My ultimate goal is to be part of creating a building that can be a central location for people to come together to create social change. I want to create opportunities for others, including by employing people who have been in prison.

I don’t know where life can go now – that is the exciting thing. Joining this campaign and continuing to fight for my place at university is part of it – it’s an exciting process that I’m willing to embark on.

Since being interviewed by PET, the London university that rejected Georgie has reversed its decision, and has made Georgie an unconditional offer to start his architecture degree. He remains part of PET’s campaign to convince universities to treat students with convictions fairly.

By Georgie

 

This article originally appeared in the Insidetime newspaper (https://insidetime.org/i-was-rejected-from-university-because-of-my-record-now-im-campaigning-for-fair-treatment/) and is reproduced with permission and thanks

Useful links

A long criminal record doesn’t have to stop you succeeding – My experience of working with young and vulnerable adults

Many people assume that once they’ve got a criminal record, they’ll never be able to work with children or vulnerable adults. As Danny’s story shows, this is not always the case. 

 

 

What can I say about my childhood – it wasn’t great to be honest. I was the middle of three kids, all born within 4 years of each other and my mum was a typical wonderfully caring woman whilst my dad was a real disciplinarian (probably due to his having served in the army for many years).

When he left the services my family settled in the South of England and one of my earliest childhood memories was the bitter arguing and fighting between my mum and dad. My dad moved out for a while but came back pretty quickly and the fighting and arguing just continued as before.

I started a fantastic junior school in the 70’s but because I was made to wear jumble sale clothes and my dad shaved my hair into a skinhead cut (just like I was in the army) I was bullied a lot. This wasn’t the worst thing though because at about the same time my dad started abusing myself and my sister. In my case, the abuse carried on for many years, right up until I started secondary school when it stopped suddenly. However, he continued to abuse my sister who told nobody about her experiences.

My father’s abuse affected many parts of my life, not least my education. I was continually disruptive in school but when the head teacher called my parents in, my dad would punish me further by beating me until I was black and blue.

By the time I was 12, I’d started getting into trouble with the police – silly stuff like shoplifting and other petty crimes but eventually I was sent to a detention centre in Kent for 4 months. This is going to sound crazy but I was the happiest I’d ever been. There were no beatings, no abuse, no fights, no arguing.

After years and years of abuse, my sister eventually found the courage to confide in her boyfriend about our father and encouraged by him, she went to the police. My father was arrested, charged and sentenced to many years in prison and we all moved back to the North of England. I continued to get into trouble and served another 4 sentences in detention centres and prison – offending was now part of my life and I couldn’t see any way out of it.

Then I met the person who was to change my life and would become my wife. Having somebody in my life that I loved and who loved me made all the difference and I was determined to change my life for the better. So I started working in a variety of jobs, mostly in factories, until I got a start in retail. I loved the work and within a few years I’d been made a department manager in a large high street store. I got married and my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter who was (and still is) the apple of my eye. Every decision I made from then on was based on my ability to provide for and spend time with my family. I wanted to make sure their lives were different to mine.

Having started to do OK for myself both personally and professionally, in 2009 I decided to spend some of my spare time volunteering with the Barnardos Heartbeat Project. I was working alongside a guy called Bob delivering sessions to hard to reach young people which looked at the causes of their offending and provided them with strategies they could use to overcome their cycle of offending. I’d been volunteering for about 6 months when I was asked by one of my managers to apply for a paid job with them as a project worker in my local area. To cut a long story short, the interview went well and I was offered the job – what followed was one of the most rewarding times of my entire working life.

Whilst working at Barnardos I gained a number of qualifications including Level 3 NVQ’s in Advice and Guidance and Counselling and a PTTLS teaching qualification. I gained an ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) delivery qualification and started delivering employability training to young people studying vocational courses at a local college. I still work in the same type of job now but with people with special needs as well as young people. My own experience has shown what you can achieve if somebody believes in you and my job allows me to help others to see a future for themselves. It’s immensely rewarding and I look forward to getting up in the morning and going to work.

My relationship with my mum remains good and in 2012 she nominated me to be an Olympic torchbearer in my local town. An amazing day that I’ll never forget.

I’ve tried hard to understand why my dad did what he did and I’d started to see him on a regular basis. On one of my recent weekly visits, despite ringing the doorbell and hammering on the door for what seemed an age, I couldn’t get any answer from him and, after looking through the keyhole and seeing his keys and phone on the hall table I began to get really worried. I phoned the police who broke into his flat where we found my father dead on the floor.

Finding my dad like that was so hard. There was still so much I wanted to talk to him about and I never got a chance to do that. At his funeral, I talked about forgiveness and how important it is to forgive others because life is too short.

My real message to anybody with a criminal record who feels that society has given up on them is this: Please believe in yourself and let others see how determined you are to succeed. I left school with no qualifications, no prospects and a criminal record as long as your arm. I wanted to work with young people but I was worried about rejection. However, I had nothing to fear – there are organisations that are looking for people just like you who have lived real life experiences and can relate to them.

By Danny (name changed to protect identity)

 

Useful links

From prisoner to probation officer – securing a job as a probation officer with a criminal record

Back in 2005 when I was about 16 years old my mum made the brave decision to move me and my younger brother from London to Wales. Although I’d never got into any serious trouble, I’d been hanging around with the ‘wrong-crowd’ and had started to get more and more involved in the whole gang scene. My mum could see that I was becoming more drawn in and was terrified that I’d either end up dead or in prison. When she was given the opportunity to relocate with her job, she grabbed it with both hands.

Although I worked hard at my new school and got 10 GCSE’s I still had that ‘gang mentality’ and was a magnet for local Welsh gangs who looked upon me as a ‘proper London gangster’. I’d started to study for my ‘A’ levels but when I wasn’t at college, I’d be selling drugs for my new Welsh ‘friends’.

In 2007, just after my 18th birthday, the inevitable happened and I was arrested and charged with possession with intent to supply. I wasn’t really surprised when the judge sentenced me to a 2 year 10 month sentence and took my punishment like a man. But I fell apart like a baby when I looked over to my mum and saw the tears and look of disappointment in her eyes. I knew immediately that I had to change, I had to make my mum proud of me, whatever happened.

Prison is prison and the worst part of it is the boredom. The prison education department arranged for me to sit my ‘A’ levels. There begun my interest in learning and gaining more knowledge and I was lucky enough to be able to study for a couple of Open University modules.

The prison education department were great. I think they could see how desperate I was to change my life around and they gave me all the help they could. As I started to think about release, I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to continue my education and study for a degree and with this in mind I started applying to different universities. After being rejected by several as a result of my criminal record, I was invited to attend an interview upon my release at a university in Wales. The interview couldn’t have gone better. I didn’t feel as though I was being judged I just got the impression that they wanted to offer me a place and wanted me to succeed.

In September 2009 I started a degree in sociology. A lot of the course was geared around human behaviours which totally fascinated me. I loved learning and was extremely motivated to do well. As well as studying I also started doing voluntary work with an organisation who worked with youth groups and in particular, those who were at risk of getting involved with gangs. Disclosing my conviction was no problem, if anything I used it as a positive rather than a negative and the organisation viewed it in the same way.

After 3 years of study I got a 2:1 in sociology. I’m not saying that I wasn’t happy with my result but I quickly realised that when I applied for jobs I’d be up against other graduates with a similar degree but lacking a criminal record. I knew I needed more and so weeks after leaving university I applied to study for a Masters in Criminology and I was accepted. I also started to look at other volunteering opportunities and came across a vacancy with my local probation service as a mentor. With my background, I didn’t think I stood much of a chance but I also took the view that I had nothing to lose and lo and behold I was invited to an interview and offered a voluntary mentoring role.

On completion of my Masters, I saw a Probation Officers job advertised at the Probation Trust where I volunteered. I’d formed a great working relationship with all the staff in the office and several of them encouraged me to apply for the job. I don’t know whether I’ve just been lucky but I’ve always been very upfront about my past and on the whole, this has served me well. I’ve tried to use my past in a positive way and in light of the type of work I’m doing I guess its been a bit easier.

Prison and education were my saviours and I’m not sure that I would have done one without the other. If I hadn’t been arrested and sent to prison when I was, I would have continued offending – I may well have ended up dead but more likely I’d have got a really long prison sentence. Prison gave me the time and motivation to learn and the rest, as they say, is history.

By Richard (name changed to protect identity)

 

Useful links

Harnessing my anger to help myself and others – Becoming a teacher with a criminal record

teacherHaving grown up with an alcoholic and abusive father, I struggled to behave like a normal teenager. On reflection, I now appreciate how angry I was that nobody was trying to help me out of the dreadful situation I was in and my unwillingness to be ‘normal’ was undoubtedly my way of rebelling.

I dropped out of school because nobody there understood me and this just added to my sense of anger with the world and life in general.

At the age of 17 I’d found myself a boyfriend and things were starting to look up. But, during the course of a heated argument, this lad pushed me. The red mist descended and in that moment of rage, I knew that I wasn’t going to let any other man hurt or take advantage of me. I picked up a knife and stabbed him. He survived and I received a three year probation order.

At about the same time, my father went to court and received a conviction for the abuse he’d subjected me to. He was sent to prison. This stirred up a lot of emotion in me not least more anger – I couldn’t understand why he’d been let off so lightly, when he’d left me with a life sentence.

Following his conviction I received a large amount of compensation and I turned to drugs to help me deal with the situation. I wasn’t ready to accept any help from probation or the counsellors that they put me in touch with. It followed that I would be caught and I was eventually charged with possession and the supply of controlled substances (cannabis and sleeping pills). This time I received a two year probation order that ran concurrent with my earlier conviction.

I’m now approaching my 42nd birthday. It took me some time to stop being angry at life but, over the years I returned to school, gained 5 GCSE’s and started to study with the Open University. I also found full time work and eventually a job that paid for me to complete my degree on a day release basis. I’d always loved science and this is the field that I concentrated my study on. I completed my degree, worked my way up the organisation and was doing pretty well for myself.

Although I enjoyed what I was doing, the idea of teaching and making a difference to the lives of young people kept crossing my mind. I really wanted to share my love of science and hopefully inspire other young people to love it too. I started to seriously look into the possibility of becoming a teacher and approached a local university to ask them what my chances were of being accepted on to a PGCE course. They were totally honest and told me that;

although they would accept me, I should expect a mixed response from schools when looking to find a work placement.

I was really nervous about leaving a perfectly good career but I knew I had to give working with kids a try. I decided not to go down the PGCE route, but took a job in a school as a laboratory technician. Whilst working there, I spoke to my colleagues and the head teacher about my dreams of teaching and after a year, I applied for a government teaching placement (now called School Direct), fully supported by the school I was working in.

Since then I’ve worked in several schools. Some heads have been amazing, they’ve listened to my story and understood that my past allows me to empathise with more difficult pupils. Other’s have shut the door in my face as soon as I’ve explained the circumstances. The head teacher at my training school gave me some excellent advice about filling in application forms. He suggested that it was better to state on the form ‘2 x convictions which I would like to discuss further at interview’. He told me that this would enable me to get through the door and prove myself before I was judged.

I’ve also found some recruitment agencies really useful. I applied for my current job through one. They asked me to write a statement detailing the offences and explaining my circumstances at the time. They spoke to the school first, which saved me the stress and embarrassment of talking about it at interview

I now work in a very challenging school with lots of pupils who remind me of my former ‘angry self’. I can honestly say that I absolutely love my job and really glad that I made the move.

I really wanted to tell my story because I thought it was important to encourage others. Having a criminal record doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams. You just need to have some patience and perseverance.

By Juliet (name changed to protect identity)

 

Useful links 

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on becoming a teacher and applying to university.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum.

A lifetime of helping people – don’t hold this one mistake against me

Job refusedMy life hasn’t always been easy. I’ve seen some real tragedy; not least my husband’s suicide which then led to my receiving a criminal record.

I can’t begin to explain what was going on in my head following my husbands suicide. There were days when I thought my heart would break and I struggled to get out of bed and other days when I felt angry at what he had done. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and this ultimately led to me getting into real difficulty with the benefits office.

My conviction isn’t something that I’m proud of but it happened and I can’t change the past. I guess you just have to learn from your mistakes and make sure you don’t repeat them.

I’ve worked all my life in a variety of jobs, a lot of them being in the care sector. I’ve always been very upfront and honest with employers about my conviction, never shying away from disclosing. Employers always want to know more and I’ve always taken the view that if it helps them to made a decision then I’ll tell them whatever they need to know. In the majority of cases, my conviction hasn’t caused me any problems.

I was excited beyond belief when in May 2013, I read about the introduction of new government legislation around the filtering of convictions from DBS checks. Sadly, the excitement didn’t last long when I discovered that despite only having one conviction, I had more than one count which automatically made my offence ineligible for filtering. It certainly would have made things easier for me if I didn’t have to disclose my conviction, but I didn’t let this get me down.

So onwards and upwards. I decided that now would be the time to turn my hand to something different and I applied for a job as an NVQ Assessor in Health and Social Care.

Before too long I’d been invited to an interview and, as always, I explained that I had a conviction and how it had come about. I felt that I’d built up a good rapport with the interviewer and I was over the moon when he told me that my conviction wouldn’t be a problem saying:

You’ve been upfront, you’ve not tried to hide it and, it was a long time ago’

The following week, I was invited to meet up with the Regional Manager. We discussed training dates and I had my photograph taken for my ID badge. It was coming up to Christmas and I thought this might hold up my DBS check, so I felt that realistically I’d probably start work towards the end of January.

Then, out of the blue, I received an email stating that my DBS certificate had come back and, as it ‘wasn’t clean’ my application could go no further. Apparently the organisation had a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards people with convictions.

I was stunned. I’d disclosed my conviction at the very first opportunity, I had extensive practical experience and relevant qualifications. I felt angry that my time had been wasted but also totally deflated. I wanted to give up and hide away.

I’ve always considered myself to be a strong individual but my confidence and self-esteem were shot to bits. I didn’t know what to do next. This one negative experience seemed to outweigh all the positives in my life.

Then, whilst searching the internet one night, I came across Unlock. I didn’t feel that I had anything to lose so, I put pen to paper and set out my experience. I didn’t expect them to do anything but I’d read that they wanted to challenge the Government’s filtering legislation and I thought I’d add my name to their campaign.

Some time later, into my inbox popped an email from Unlock. They asked me for some more information, said they might be able to help me. This was all it took to fire me up again. My confidence returned and I knew that I needed to do something different – something totally different. So I applied to university to become a student and my application was accepted.

Unlock wrote to the NVQ company highlighting their poor recruitment practice and how they had contravened the DBS Code of Practice in they way they’d dealt with me. They received a letter back stating that there had been a miscommunication issue and that they didn’t have a zero tolerance policy! I’ve not pursued a role with this company any further as I’m of the firm belief that I wouldn’t want to work for an organisation that had this type of attitude towards me, but hopefully it might help others in the future.

I made one bad mistake when my world was in crisis, but I’ve actually devoted the rest of my life trying to help others. I’m determined that this is what I’ll continue to do.

By Angie (name changed to protect identity)

 

Useful links

Celebrating the achievement of an outstanding learner

Festival of learning

The Festival of Learning, which took place in June, is the biggest national celebration of lifelong learning in England. Each year, ahead of the Festival, an awards ceremony is hosted (The Inspire Awards) to celebrate the achievements of outstanding learners who’ve shown exceptional passion, commitment and drive for learning, often in the face of difficult circumstances.

This year, the ‘Overall Learner of the Year Award’ and the ‘Into Work’ category was won by James Harris. What’s so outstanding about James is that he spent half of his adult life in prison after he was sentenced to 76 months in prison for drug offences.

Talking about his experiences after he received his award, James explained how he had first been offered cocaine at a party when he was 19. Before long, his drug use had escalated until it eventually reached the point where he couldn’t face going to work before he’d snorted a line of coke. At the age of 23, James was dealing drugs to pay for his habit and this ultimately led to his prison sentence.

Like many people, prison proved to be the turning point for James and, instead of hitting rock bottom, he decided to use his time behind bars positively. Relationships with his family had broken down and James knew that he had to turn his life around. He dedicated his time to learning new skills and acquiring more knowledge. He gained more than 30 qualifications ranging from psychology to personal training as well as mentoring around 30 other prisoners to achieve basic literacy skills.

Having left prison, James now combines studying for an Open University degree whilst working night shifts. In an interview given to Wales Online James said:

I wanted to use my own personal experiences combined with my studies to help others battling drug addiction.

I’ve spent half of my adult life in prison but rather than focus on the negatives, I decided to take a step back and evaluate my life choices.

I’d love to work in a drug rehabilitation unit as a therapist and I know to achieve that I’ve got to work hard’

Read the whole article about James at here or watch an video interview with James.

 

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on universities, colleges and education for people with convictions on our information site.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to education and training from people with convictions on our online forum.

Seeing the legal system from both sides – and becoming a solicitor!

SolicitorIn 1993 I drove the ‘get away’ vehicle in a robbery. It goes without question that this is a crime that I am deeply ashamed of and one I regret every day.

I had grown up on council estates and seen friends make mistakes and get in serious trouble. I really hoped I would not suffer a similar fate However, in my teens my life became afflicted with an addition to gambling that I simply could not control. It got worse and worse and I got myself heavily in debt. Understandably no one would lend me money. It was in these circumstances that I decided to involve myself in a robbery in a bid to clear my debt. This is by no means an excuse, its just what happened.

Thankfully I was caught and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. I say thankfully as it was in prison that I managed to turn my life around.

I distinctly recall a moment in prison (HMP Parkhurst) after about 18 months or so when I’d reached absolutely rock bottom. My parents were suffering greatly, particularly my mother. She had such high hopes for me and always pushed me to study hard and make something of my life. She was simply devastated by my incarceration – the sad and frightened look on her face whenever she visited me still burns me now.

At the time I was still gambling in prison, only the currency was tobacco and phone cards rather than cash. That didn’t stop me getting heavily in debt again.

I was surrounded by examples of what I would become in 10 years, 20 years or 30 years time if I didn’t find a way out. So I just decided that enough was enough and that I had to do something to change my life’s direction. My dear mother and family right behind me.

So I enrolled on an offending behaviour course and it soon became obvious to me that despite my constant denials and protestations that I could control my gambling, it was indeed gambling that was the root cause of all my problems. This led me to get in touch with Gamblers Anonymous and I received literature from them that changed my life forever.

I’d tried giving up gambling before, but always got bored and ended up convincing myself that I could control my habit only to fail miserably. The literature advised me to fill the gap that inevitably follows after giving up gambling (you spend so much time gambling and finding money to gamble when you’re an addict that you have little time for anything other than sleep) with positive things.

I decided to fill my gap with education in the main and rekindling my love of basketball. I was always interested in law so got myself a job as a student orderly, helping inmates with basic English and Maths along with studying a correspondence course in A level law. I’d written to various organisations and managed to get funding to do the A level.

Whilst doing the course, I applied to the University of Southampton to study for a degree in law. I disclosed my conviction for robbery and I was lucky enough to be invited to sit an internal exam and go through a rigorous interview. The prison I was in was good enough to give me a licence to attend and I managed to pass the exam and persuade the university to offer me a place contingent upon me getting a grade A in my A level law exam.

I remember my exam was 2 days after my release and being worried sick that I would get out and be so distracted by the euphoria of being released after three and a half years in prison that I might mess up my exam. I therefore asked the Prison Governor if I could remain a further two days, sit my exam and then be released so I could focus on what would be the biggest exam of my life. The governor agreed and I managed to secure my grade A.

I excelled at university getting a high 2.1 and being amongst the top 10% in my year group. I then obtained a distinction on the Legal Practice Course at Guildford’s College of Law.

In order to qualify as a solicitor, I had to convince the Law Society that I was now a fit and proper person to become a solicitor. I had spent a tremendous amount of time since my release doing as many positive things in the community as possible. As a consequence, I was able to produce a number of references from people such as my law tutor, careers advisor, employers, voluntary work supervisors and friends. I have no doubt that this enabled me to convince the Law Society that I was now a fit and proper person to become a solicitor.

My only hurdle then was to convince a firm of solicitors to give me a training contract. This was not easy and I was turned down 100’s of times. It eventually became obvious that the smaller high street legal aid practices would be more willing to take a chance on me.

I eventually managed to secure an interview with one of these practices and was given a chance to complete my training contract. I qualified as a solicitor and gained a further qualification which enabled me to conduct jury trials and appear in courts as high as the Supreme Court. I spent 7 very happy years with this organisation until I decided to set up my own practice specialising in criminal defence work.

I can’t say it has all been plain sailing, there have been very difficult moments throughout my journey. I have experienced people, including those in the criminal justice system. that have made negative comments about myself being allowed to practice and about my achievements. This was a big shock to me, as I assumed that everyone would view my rehabilitation and achievements positively.

However, I soon understood and came to realise that it was a healthy reminder of the fact that I committed a very serious crime indeed that will never leave me no matter what I achieve. That is the real punishment, but I have not allowed it for one second to deviate me from my pursuit of doing the best I can to be an active and positive role model in the community. That is the least I can do for the victims of my crime.

By Thomas (name changed to protect identity)

 

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on becoming a solicitor for people with convictions on our information site.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to education and training from people with convictions on our online forum.

We want to make sure that our website is as helpful as possible.

Letting us know if you easily found what you were looking for or not enables us to continue to improve our service for you and others.

Was it easy to find what you were looking for?

Thank you for your feedback.

12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

Help support us now