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Top 10 things to know about criminal records

I thought “offenders” were different to me until my friend received a criminal record

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Annie found it hard to empathise with anybody that had a criminal record until her friend received a conviction and went to prison.

I’ve been running my own hairdressing business for approximately 25 years now and, I’m happy to say that it’s very successful. I’m based in a town which is close to a men’s open prison and over the years several men have been in touch with me asking whether I have any vacancies for paid work – the prison apparently offers a barbering course.

Whenever I received one of those letters, I’d always make it clear that I didn’t run a barbers shop and therefore wouldn’t be able to offer them a job. This was a fact but it was actually only half the story.

In fact, I didn’t want anybody working for me that had a criminal record. Why would I? I’d got my reputation to keep and I didn’t want my customers knowing that I employed ‘wrong-un’s’. What if these people were dangerous? – hairdressers shops have scissors, bleach etc, all sorts of things that could inflict serious injury if they fell into the wrong hands. I didn’t want one of my customers getting their throats cut just because they complained about a dodgy blow-dry.

I can’t tell you how embarrassed I am when I re-read that paragraph now, but at the time I was ignorant. I was convinced that somebody like me had never met “somebody like that” – how could I have done? Well the fact is that I had “met somebody like that”, I’d known them for 20 years. We were good friends and for a large amount of that time they were breaking the law.

I’d never have known had they not been caught, convicted and sent to prison for 5 years. I’m not going to go into the details of their offence, that’s their story not mine. All I’ll say is that it was related to drugs. I knew nothing about the arrest until I picked up the local newspaper and saw the headlines and a photograph of my friend leaving court. I was shocked beyond belief.

Stacey (that’s not her real name) wrote to me from prison trying to explain what had led to her conviction but I just threw the letters in the bin. She wasn’t the person I’d thought she was; the person I’d shared dinner and wine with and who I’d shared some of my deepest, darkest secrets with. I remember saying to myself:

Well we all go through hard times but we don’t all end up in prison.”

I never wrote to her, never visited her and wouldn’t speak about her to mutual acquaintances. I totally abandoned her – what a fantastic friend I proved to be! That’s not to say I didn’t miss her, I did and that’s partly why I felt so angry with her.

But then 2.5 years after her conviction she turned up in my shop. She’d made an appointment, booking in with a different name – she told me it was the only way she knew she’d get my full attention for 1 hour. She looked the same but different; thinner but older and lacking all self-confidence. We didn’t talk about the conviction at that appointment, but she spent a lot of it apologising and asking if we could meet (just once) so that she could try to explain what had happened. I agreed.

I can’t say we became best mates again after that one meeting but it was just the first of many. I started to understand a bit more about her life and the front she’d always put on to protect not only herself but those around her. And, as time went on, I began to see that with or without a criminal record, she was exactly the same person, my mate.

Stacey wasn’t dangerous, she wasn’t the sort of person that would throw bleach over somebody or slit their throat with a pair of scissors – she was probably just the same as a lot of people with a criminal record. I met up with a couple of the girls that she’d been to prison with and I had to face up to the fact that they were all much nicer people than I was. They didn’t judge me when I explained my previous attitude towards people with a criminal record, they didn’t tell me what a rotten friend I’d been.

All I knew about people with a criminal record is what I’d leant from the TV but that was drama not real life. But, that’s no excuse for the way I treated Stacey or the guys from prison that had contacted me in the past and I knew that I wanted to try and make amends.

After we’d been meeting for a while, Stacey started to tell me more and more about her experiences in prison especially the number of women who enrolled onto hairdressing courses in the hope that it would be something they can continue with upon release. Realistically of course, they’re probably going to struggle to find employment and with very little savings will find it hard to buy the necessary equipment to start up their own business. Stacey had never been interested in being a hairdresser but I could see that it meant a lot to her to help women get back into work and I started to think that by helping some of these women I may be able to put right some of the wrongs.

I have to go back to what I said right at the start of this article, I’m a hairdresser, not a barber and I didn’t think I had the necessary skills to support a man doing a barbering course so for now, I’m concentrating on helping women.

Making contact with the prisons has been extremely difficult and incredibly time consuming and if it wasn’t for Stacey telling me to “hang on in there”, I might have given up. However, after almost 6 months I’ve just had a meeting with the Business Development Manager at one of the prisons and I’m hopeful that I’ll soon have a couple of women from the prison come to work for me whilst they’re still in prison. This will give them the opportunity to put what they’ve learnt on the course into practice and get a better idea as to whether hairdressing really is the job for them. I’ve committed to having two girls from the prison each on a six month placement. Obviously I can’t offer every one of them a job at the end of it but I’ve been speaking at several local employer networking events trying to encourage other salons to do something similar.

I know that I’m not going to change the world on my own and I also know that the reason for doing this is in some way to assuage the guilt I feel over letting Stacey down. But, as she said to me recently:

People in prison only need one person to believe in them. They don’t care how you got to where you’re at, just that you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons.”

By Annie  (name changed to protect identity)

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I thought the last people to judge me would be the solicitors I worked for

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After working for a company for 25 years, Ian was distraught to learn that following changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct, he would have to disclose his 31 year old criminal record.

Until August of this year I was employed in the accounts department of a large law firm being responsible for several European offices. My employment began in the early 1990’s and without being too boastful, I had an exemplary work record.

However, my life prior to this was very different. In my early 20’s I was arrested for armed robbery and in 1988 received a prison sentence of 7.5 years. Like many people with convictions, finding a suitable career upon release was not easy but I was determined to put that life behind me and I never gave up searching for a career rather than just a job.

I managed to find a succession of jobs but nothing that had any long term prospects. However, despite a series of setbacks, I wouldn’t let anything stop me and I persisted with my search. In 1994 I secured a position in the accounts department of a law firm as an accounts assistant. Few companies asked about criminal records at that time and my employer was no different.

Over the years I progressed internally becoming assistant manager and then after 11 years I took the lead on a newly created role as billing coordinator. The past 14 years have seen me build on this and four years ago I became manager.

My life outside of the ‘office’ also grew. I met my wife in 1993 and we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary this year with our two sons. We settled into an average, suburban life, something I never thought I would be able to enjoy.

After almost 25 years working for this company and building a new life with my wife and sons, I now find myself in a very difficult situation where I have become unemployed again. I had hoped that I would stay with the company until retirement but unfortunately a situation arose that has resulted in my employment being terminated.

Due to my employers desire to not only comply with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) but also with current and prospective client engagement letters, my company decided to carry out retrospective background checks on all employees. Before the check was even started I took the decision to disclose my conviction to one of the managing partners, who decided to raise it with both the SRA and an outside employment law specialist. Neither the SRA nor the legal advisors were able to offer any concrete guidance around whether my conviction prevented me from working in my finance role. Two months ago the SRA made the decision that my role was not eligible for this type of SRA approval and that I didn’t need to go through the process again in any future job.

The advice my employers received was discussed amongst a small number of the partners and, despite a faultless employment history and the fact that I’d worked for the company for approximately 25 years, the decision was made to terminate my employment.

I’m still in total shock over what’s happened and how I’ve been treated. The people that made the decision to terminate my employment were people I’d known for 25 years; I didn’t just think of them as my employers but also as friends. I was obviously nervous about disclosing my conviction to them and I knew that they’d probably be shocked but I didn’t think that it would result in my dismissal. I honestly thought that they’d use my 25 years of work experience to make a decision rather than something that happened 31 years ago to a very different person.

By Ian (name changed to protect identity)

Comment from Unlock

It’s extremely disappointing to hear that Ian’s employer’s took the decision to dismiss him, especially as the SRA have confirmed that his role was not covered by the SRA Standards and Regulations. However, it does evidence how once employers have seen details of somebody’s criminal record they can sometimes find it difficult not to act on it. It’s one of the reasons why we continue to campaign for changes to the current criminal record disclosure regime.

Ian has now accepted a settlement from his previous employers and is currently seeking a new role in a similar field.

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“Second chances don’t feel like they exist if you’ve been convicted of a sexual offence”

Dean was delighted to find a job with a really supportive employer and didn’t think for a minute that he’d be dismissed 9 months later after head office had sight of his DBS certificate.

Back in September 2018 I applied for a job delivering and collecting courtesy cars. There was a box on the application form asking if I had any unspent convictions and then another box underneath asking for further details.

This question filled me with dread as I knew that ticking the ‘Yes’ box would always reduce my chances of success. So not feeling too optimistic, I put my cross in the ‘Yes’ box and went on to explain that I’d been convicted of downloading indecent images.

A few days later I was invited for an interview. It went really well, the manager was easy to talk to and really put me at ease and at the end of the meeting he asked me when I could start and offered me a job. He told me that I would need a basic DBS check but, as I’d disclosed my conviction I wasn’t unduly worried.

On my first day at work I filled out the forms for the criminal record check and then off I went to get my task for the day.

I absolutely loved the job, I was driving all day clocking up between 40-50 hours per week but as I loved it so much it didn’t feel like work.

Nothing had been said about my criminal record check so I assumed that all was well with it. I was surprised that they hadn’t told me they’d received it but I wasn’t too worried.

I’d been working for the company for just over three months when I was called into the managers office. He told me that there had been a problem submitting my DBS application (I think they’d forgotten to do it) and asked me if I could give him some further details about my conviction. I had nothing to hide and told him what I’d been convicted of and the disposal I’d received. I explained what had led me to offend and what I’d been doing since – completing a probation course and building up a network of support around me. I wanted my manager to know that I was a different person now and I was ashamed of the person I’d been. He made notes but he seemed fine, in fact he was very supportive.

Everything carried on as normal until about 4 months ago when I was told that the company would be applying again for my basic DBS. I signed the form and gave consent for the certificate to go straight to head office – why wouldn’t I, nothing was going to show up that they didn’t know already.

Two weeks later my manager asked to speak to me. His first words to me were:

I’m so sorry and I want you to know that I did everything I could.

He went on to tell me that having seen the DBS certificate head office had told him that he had to terminate my contract. He was close to tears as he told me that he had no problem with me or my work and he’d be happy to give me a character reference if I needed one in the future.

I never tried to hide my conviction; I’m not proud of it but it is my past. My manager and other staff knew my story and I got on well with all of them. I think head office were worried about their reputation but I spent very little time with customers and I’d only ever introduce myself using my first name. It seems a knee jerk reaction by head office. I’d been at the company for 9 months without any issues.

I knew I worked hard and I did a good job. I was polite and courteous to customers and had the full support of my manager. However, with all those things in my favour, head office still couldn’t see beyond my conviction and give me a second chance.

By Dean  (name changed to protect identity)


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Driven to suicide as a result of an enhanced DBS certificate – the problem with the disclosure of police intelligence

I head up an information and advice line for a small network of youth groups in England and Wales and often hear from young people who are facing problems as a result of the ongoing effects of their criminal record. I recently dealt with a particularly tragic case and thought that it was important to share the details.


Ann (not her real name) was a decent, lively young lady who always wanted to work with children. After leaving school she went to university, got her degree and set about getting herself a job. Very quickly she found something that she thought was very interesting with good prospects for promotion and which involved working with children in care.

She got the job and was told that she would need an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check. She was told that strictly speaking her employers should be in receipt of it before she began work but ‘because she was a woman’ she could start the following week providing she applied for her criminal record check immediately.

Several weeks later her DBS certificate arrived and on it, disclosed under the ‘additional information’ section was her Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) for a public order offence. Ann had received this whilst she was at university and on a night out with three of her fellow students. On their way home, they were all pretty merry but certainly not drunk or disorderly. As they approached the city centre they passed two men who started looking them up and down and seemed to be ‘sizing them up’. Both men were dressed in black trousers, jackets and black baseball caps and Ann had a strange feeling that they might be undercover police officers so jokingly as she walked past them, she made a pig-like noise.

Unfortunately, her instincts were absolutely right, they were indeed police officers. One of them grabbed Ann’s arm and told her that she had committed a public order offence by ‘making a pig-like noise in the vicinity of a police officer.’ They told her that if she accepted a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) and a fine she would avoid having to go to court. Believing that this was her best option, Ann accepted the PND.

Ann thought that was the end of the matter but of course as her enhanced DBS certificate was to show it most certainly was not. When she took the document to her employer, they told her that she’d acted dishonestly in not disclosing the PND and she was instantly dismissed. Ann was absolutely shattered and spent the following week shut away in her bedroom. Working with children was all she’d ever wanted to do and it seemed to Ann that as a result of a silly mistake, her dreams would come to nothing. She hadn’t been deliberately dishonest, she just hadn’t realised that this would show up on her DBS certificate.

Two weeks later she took her own life.

The coroner was aware of the full facts of the case but Ann’s parents asked that the information about her police record not be published in the press as it would bring disgrace on their deceased daughter and their ‘upstanding family’. Their wishes were respected but this means that the public will never know of the outrageous happenings that caused Ann to lose her job and in turn take her own life.

Ann died a tragic death because she made a pig-like noise. Her punishment was no mere slap on the wrist; it was a death sentence.

By Rev. Geoffrey Squire


A comment from Unlock

We hear from many young people who have accepted PND’s, cautions etc without having the ongoing affects fully explained to them by the police. Many don’t realise that it may have an impact on their job prospects in the future and, as we have seen from Ann’s story, have tragic consequences.

Anything disclosed by the police as ‘additional information’ needs to be deemed relevant and proportionate to the job that an applicant is applying for and since 2012, when statutory disclosure guidance was introduced we’ve seen a significant decrease in the amount of ‘additional information’ being disclosed. If you think that the police are likely to disclose additional information on an enhanced check then we would always recommend that you contact the police force involved and ask them to give you the opportunity to appeal against it’s disclosure.

Ann’s case once again demonstrates how risk averse some employers can be and don’t always take the time to properly assess an individual’s criminal record. They will often make assumptions about a person without finding out more about the circumstances surrounding a situation. We will continue to work with both employers and government to ensure that employers have fair and inclusive policies and procedures that support the recruitment of people with convictions.


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Life’s about reinventing yourself, not finding yourself

I’ve been reading stories on theRecord for a while now and, following my own experiences recently, I’ve felt compelled to write something in the hope that even if I can encourage just one person, then it’s been worthwhile.

Five years ago I can vividly recall myself saying to a friend ‘If you break the law, have no respect for authority or people then you deserve what you get’ – how wrong I was.

At the age of 48, I’d never been in trouble with the Police. My life was good – I had a job I loved, I had my own house, close family etc. Little did I know that in 2012 all that was going to change …….

My mother had been pretty poorly for a while and in June 2012, she lost her battle against cancer. She was my rock, my world and there wasn’t a single thing I wouldn’t have done for her but now she was gone. Loneliness doesn’t even come close to describing the emptiness that I felt – that I still feel. I had no purpose, no direction and no reason to carry on. I became isolated, just going to work and home again at the end of the day – day in, day out. Like a ‘zombie’. I wanted it to end. I didn’t want this life any more.

It was in 2015 that I received a Community Order, almost three years after my mum had passed away. What it was for, it doesn’t matter. It was a conviction, that’s all that’s important. In a strange way though it shocked me into realising that I couldn’t carry on as I had been.

I know that people have different views about their arrest, the police etc. and these are no doubt based around their own experiences. I found that the police treated me with respect, my barrister and the judge gave me a chance and even my Probation Officer believed in me – even though I still find that hard to do.

I left my job shortly after being arrested and at the age of 51, I’d assumed that my age would probably be a barrier to finding work. Well, welcome to the world of a criminal record. The world in which nobody wants to know you. I’d done wrong, and I was truly, truly sorry but employers weren’t interested in any of that.

Every single night for about 16 weeks I applied for approximately 3 jobs. Oh I got phone calls offering me work but as soon as I mentioned my conviction, the job offer was revoked – a big fat NO. Some days it was really hard to keep going but my Probation Officer encouraged me to keep trying even though I really couldn’t see the point. But, she was right.

I’m now in my third month of being back in full time employment. I’m starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s some purpose to my life now. I’ve got a reason to get up in the morning. My message to anybody reading this would be:-

‘No matter what happens, believe in yourself. Things will be hard for sure. Changes are going to happen but don’t fear them, embrace them. As I saw on a poster recently – Life is not about finding yourself but about reinventing yourself – and that’s what I intend doing’.


By Jeff (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 disclosing to employers and looking for friendly employers for people with convictions on our Information Hub.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to seeking work from people with convictions on our online forum

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

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.

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!

Avoiding certain jobs


As someone with a record, I often feel completely isolated. Going public with my past carries a huge risk – as do enhanced criminal record disclosures. For example, I work in a respected ‘status’ role in higher education within a niche subject with a small circle of experts, employers and colleagues. The same people that would process an enhanced disclosure would be the same people that I work with. It is a thought that motivates my avoidance of certain jobs, even though I would otherwise not seek to conceal my past among friends and family. I have thus paid over and over for what were – in the field of crimes – petty actions.

I do think the current employment legislation for ex-offenders needs radical reform. It is set completely against the employee and places too much power (and power to abuse) into the hands of employers. The ‘official’ guidance for ex-offenders is that after a certain amount of time, spent convictions should not impede your life in a major way. This is so inaccurate I do not know where to begin.

Since my offences, I have served my country in the armed services – with two tours of active duty under my belt – gained a BA, MA and PhD and published in respected academic journals. I have also lectured and taught at one of the country’s leading universities. However, the current enhanced criminal records disclosure procedure leaves me terrified. I have avoided about 80 per cent of the employment opportunities that are open to me. I suffer frequent bouts of unemployment because my research field involves fixed-term contracts and I select jobs that do not involve an enhanced CRB.

This is becoming increasingly difficult because I believe employers are abusing the enhanced disclosure process and using it to vet employees. In short the whole system of dealing with ‘reformed offenders’ is out of tune with reality and the structure of society. It does not affect the ‘convicted’ elite of society or repeat offenders; it only serves to disable, impede and waste a massive cohort of British society who I trying to move on with honest lives.

I came to Unlock because I am tired of running away from my past and giving in to a system primed to knock me down. Unlock has been a critical first step in this process. It has provided me with clear, unambiguous guidance. As far as I am aware it is the only body/charity/website that offers the type of detail that is necessary for me to go forward. Knowledge is power – and personal empowerment.

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