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Tag: Self-employment -

Could 2021 be the year you become your own boss?

There aren’t many people who would consider 2020 to have been a great year. Some will be approaching 2021 with a certain amount of anxiety whilst others will see it as an opportunity for change.

With over 800,000 jobs being lost since the start of the Covid pandemic and UK unemployment likely to reach 2.6 million by the middle of 2021, the outlook for job seekers looks pretty bleak.

But, could this be the time to consider starting your own business? During times of stress and struggle, people can often be forced to think ‘outside the box’ which can lead to new, innovative business ideas.

Take Derek Jones for example.

The name may not mean a lot to you but, if you or a family member or friend have ever been in prison you’ve probably come across the business that Derek started, Email A Prisoner – a specialist email service connecting those in prison with their friends and family on the outside.

Derek first got into trouble with the police when he was 11 years old. It started off with minor stuff but, by the time he’d reached the age of 21 he had been in custody 15 times and, his offending soon graduated to car theft and burglary. Derek recognises that laziness was a big part of his offending:

I wanted everything to come easy – I didn’t want to work for it. I wanted to do something else with my life, but I thought that was out of reach.

Although Derek had been in and out of prison, it was whilst he was remanded for 6 months in 2003 that he started to experience problems communicating with his friends and family. Having plenty of time to consider how the problem could be overcome, he had his ‘eureka moment’ – ‘Email’. A system whereby friends and family on the outside could send emails on a regular basis to those in prison which they’d receive quicker than a letter. Derek was convinced that demand would be huge and that it could be done at no cost to prisons or prisoners; the sender outside would pay.

He knew he needed to do further research to turn his idea into a viable business and he visited the prison library at every opportunity to find books on starting a business.

On release from prison, he was determined to stay out of trouble and was passionate about getting his idea off the ground. However, this was easier said than done; some people just couldn’t quite understand the concept and others told him that it was an impossible dream.

Derek contacted a local business support organisation and over the next four months did various business start-up courses. He was able to put a business plan together and managed to get a £2000 grant from a local enterprise agency. As well as the cash investment, Derek was also given a mentor who provided him with help and advice as well as huge amounts of encouragement.

It took Derek 2 years to get his business – Email A Prisoner – off the ground. It was initially trialled at Guy’s Marsh Prison in Dorset, where the pilot proved extremely popular with both the prison and users of the service. Getting other prisons to sign up was difficult to start with but Derek remained positive and has since sold his email service to over 130 prisons.

Derek has always been open and honest about his past and believes that as far as his own business is concerned, his criminal record has been a help to him.

So, do you think you could be the next Derek?

A report written by The Centre for Entrepreneurs found that individuals who had served time in prison displayed many traits which made them suitable for an entrepreneurial career, such as scoring highly on the need for self-achievement, personal innovation and the desire for independence.

If you’re struggling to find work or have been discriminated against in the past because of your criminal record, then self-employment may be something to consider. It’s not for everyone and although having a good idea is a great starting point, there’s a lot more too it. However, thanks to the internet, social media and innovative technology, it might just be easier than you think.

theRecord Editor

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Allow me to talk about my past and you might give me a better future

Having a criminal record can make it difficult to get into employment but as Ben has discovered, a diagnosis of PTSD makes it even more so.

I came out of prison after serving 3 months of a six-month sentence.

To give you some background to my conviction, I was sent home from military service with combat stress. The military tried to help me by putting me on a six-week treatment programme but after a week it was agreed that my symptoms were far too complex for them to treat and so the decision was taken to send me home. My head was all over the place and I just wanted to put my car through a brick wall and do away with myself.

I thought I might feel better if I were able to explain how I felt. Thinking it might be easier to talk to my wife over a drink, we headed off to a local pub. However, I ended up getting absolutely paralytic drunk and on the way home had a fantastic idea – I’d ring the police and tell them that I was planning on blowing up a local mosque.

When the police arrived at the phone box from which I’d made the call they came on masse – three patrol cars in all. I tried to explain how I was feeling and why I’d done what I’d done. They had to arrest me and I went along willingly; in a strange way I thought I might be able to get some help for my problems.

My case was heard at Crown Court where the prosecution agreed with my barrister that my motives were not racially motivated and that nothing would be served by sending me to prison. Both recommended that I have 1-1 counselling through the probation service. However, the judge stated that he had to make an example of me and so prison it was.

I did my time with no problems or complaints. It was a short sentence and I just kept my head down. Sadly I didn’t get any help or counselling and when I was released I was really in the same position as I’d been before I went to prison. The only difference was that nobody wanted to know me – so much for having served my time!!!

I found it incredibly difficult to get work and it feels like I’m constantly being punished for a stupid mistake I made just to try to get some help for myself.

I eventually manged to get some counselling and was diagnosed with PTSD. The treatment I’ve received has really helped me and I feel like I’m in a much better place.

Believing that I’d never be able to get a job I decided that the only option I had would be to work for myself. I decided to set up a photography business which I’m pleased to say is slowly getting off the ground.

I’ve been in touch with all the sports clubs in my local area, especially those which have kids teams (parents love photos of their off-spring in action). It’s important for me to show that I’m no risk to any of the children that I’m photographing and so whenever I’m asked, I’m happy to show clubs a copy of my enhanced DBS check. Inevitably, I’ll be asked about the time I spent in prison. I tell them why I did what I did and how I came to be in that position.

The majority of clubs I’ve spoken to have absolutely no issue with the fact that I’ve been in prison; they seem to be more concerned about the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with military PTSD – I’m sure they think that I’m some sort of axe wielding maniac.

I’ve never used my PTSD as an excuse for my behaviour. What I did was a cry for help and I’m sure that the PTSD led to the bad choices I made in seeking this.

I’ve embraced and engaged with the treatment that I’ve been offered and I’ve learnt coping mechanisms to help me deal with my triggers. In the same way that I’m happy to discuss my criminal record, I’d have no problem talking about my PTSD especially if it helped employers get a better understanding of it.

By Ben  (name changed to protect identity)

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My life behind bars – from prisoner to bar owner

David Gauke has made it clear that he doesn’t believe that prison sentences of less than 12 months rehabilitate individuals and should only be used as a last resort. Malcolm is certain that despite having served lots of short sentences, he only started to turn his life around after he’d received one for 6 years.


When you’ve been in and out of prison as many times as I have (I only received short sentences), you’re always going to find it hard to find a job. When you’re 17 stone, over 6ft tall and have an arm full of tattoos – well you’re just living up to some people’s image of a criminal.

My last sentence was the longest I’d done, 6 years for a drug offence. I’ve never taken drugs myself; I’d always thought it was a bit of a mugs game to be honest but,when I found myself with no job, struggling to find somewhere affordable to live, the offer of some easy money was too good to resist. Of course, there’s no such thing as easy money and I’ve had to live with the consequences of that decision ever since.

The only good thing to come out of my last sentence was the fact that I got the chance to go to an open prison. From there, I had the opportunity to do some voluntary work and then managed to get a paid job working for a food preparation company. Although I love food, my only experience had been in the eating and not the making so this was a totally new experience for me. However, I loved the job and was always willing to work overtime or cover for colleagues if they needed time off.

As the time to leave prison drew closer, I started to give some thought to what the future might hold for me. I knew that my job was safe but I started to look at possible training courses. I didn’t think that I wanted to train to be a chef but considered that a career in management might be more my type of thing.

I signed up to do a qualification in Kitchen Management, well supported by my employers. I passed with flying colours but the best thing to come out of the course was meeting a guy called Charlie F. Charlie was working for a large pub chain as a manager and we ended up having lunch together most days. Before the course had finished, he’d convinced me to apply for a job as a trainee pub manager.

I never thought for one minute that I’d get an interview so I put off applying for another 9 months. However, to my surprise I smashed the interview and was offered a trainee management role. I did loads more training and within 4 months I had my own pub in Yorkshire. The hours were long but I loved meeting and talking to the customers; I even learnt to become a lot more tolerant of the more challenging customers, although to be honest nobody really wanted to mess with a 17 stone guy like me.

One of the benefits of managing a pub is that you get very little time to go out or spend money. You live in a pub, paying minimal rent and so for many people you can build up some substantial savings which is exactly what I did.

So now, I can begin the next part of my journey which is the opening of my own cocktail bar. This is no ordinary bar however, we’re going to be using local spirits, tonics and sodas and our drinks will be inspired by some of the herbs and flowers grown in our own garden. For a ‘bit of a lad’ like me, I bet your struggling to get your head around that. For me, it’s an ideal opportunity to experiment with flavours whilst combining this with my love of booze (only joking). I’m working with a much more discerning clientele these days who probably view me as a ‘loveable rogue’ rather than just a ‘thug’.

I’ve worked hard for what I have but I was given a lot of opportunities by people who were prepared to give me a second chance; I can’t thank them enough. I’ve always tried to do the same in my business and I’ve employed lots of people with criminal records. I’ve never been let down by any of them. My life is very different now – albeit, I’m still behind bars!

By Malcolm (name changed to protect identity)


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The code to success is to make the most of every opportunity presented – how I set up my website development business

As Michael has discovered, a criminal record doesn’t have to mean the end of your working life but the chance to start a new career that you may never have had the opportunity to consider before.


18 weeks ago I was released from prison – a prison sentence that has changed my life.

Life in prison is extremely mundane with every possible job being pretty much the same. Mind numbing boredom. I was transferred to a Cat C prison with 7 months remaining on my sentence. I went through the normal intake procedure and then was given an application form with the same old jobs and courses. As I like to keep busy and I’m a curious person by nature, I’ve probably worked in nearly every job possible and completed many of the courses on offer. However, on this particular form I immediately noticed my two options; a tiling course which I hadn’t done yet and a course I’d never seen before called Code 4000.

I was intrigued. I knew the tiling course would land me a job upon release but I couldn’t help wondering what Code 4000 was. I asked a member of staff on the wing who said:

Some sort of computer thing”

I’ve always been interested in coding but never had the chance nor the time to pursue it. Anyway, I called my partner and asked her which I should choose. She instantly replied “that’s a silly question, do the coding”. So I did.

Code 4000 was refreshing from day one. The moment I walked into the office space I felt like I’d walked out of prison. The space was inviting, intriguing, bright and open. They even had a small area to relax when the coding got too much. I was truly amazed. I knew instantly that I’d made the right choice.

The first day I was given a fancy desk, computer and two large monitors. My initial task was to build a small gaming app (built for 7-year olds) to see if I could overcome problems on my own. This introduced me to the basics of coding. Once I’d learnt the basic building blocks I moved on, learning a wealth of information from the basics of computer science to HTML and CSS. By this time my head had started to spill over. I hit a wall of information and didn’t know what to do. The best advice I got from one of my tutors was simple “Don’t try and learn it all, learn the basics then choose the path that suits you”. At the time I remember thinking “I have no idea what that even means”.

I eventually found my feet and got my teeth into some in-depth learning. I started making apps and websites. Then we got to do commercial work with charities where we received actual commercial feedback from designers and clients. It may sound a little daft but learning in prison is a great surrounding. No phones ringing, no emails to distract you. Focus is the key and of course it distracts you from the harsh environment.

After I was released, I set up my company, Pink Umbrella Studio. I hit the ground running wanting to make a difference.

Our main focus is to make websites for charities at absolute minimum cost and take away the stress of building a website. A portion of the websites we build go back through the Code 4000 programme so people in prison get commercial feedback and can build a personal portfolio which will increase their chances of employment upon release.

My company has a simple business model – help charities, help offenders and lower the re-offending rates.

If you have a project which you think we can help with then please visit our website.

By Michael

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Baking the world a better place! Bringing about social change and reducing the stigma of a criminal record via a bakery business

As we all know, securing a job with a criminal record can be extremely difficult and those thinking about self-employment can often be held back by a lack of funding and sometimes the confidence to go it alone. Having recently come across The Barker Baker, I was amazed to discover that the company came about as a result of a course run by the Probation Service together with the passion and motivation of somebody who wanted to bring about social change and reduce the stigma of having a criminal record. Here’s The Barker Baker’s story.

Approximately 5 years ago Francesca received an 18 month suspended sentence for a fraud offence and began her supervision sessions with her probation officer. She attended the various courses she was expected to do but, unlike a lot of the usual courses offered by probation, Francesca was introduced to a course being run by Virtuous Bread.

Virtuous had received funding from Ex Cell and the Hope Foundation to teach six individuals, being supervised by probation the essentials of setting up a micro bakery. Francesca was one of six selected to go on the course.

After completing the course, Francesca knew that baking was her future. After setting up a crowdfunding page she managed to raise £467 from people all over the UK and so began her baking business. She bought mixing bowls, flour, a folding table, a gazebo, a table cloth and a clapped out vintage suitcase. Once fully kitted out she booked a space at her first market and very quickly sold out of all the items she’d taken. Francesca explained:

“Everyone loved the bread, loved my story and appreciated the hard work I was putting in to get back on my feet. Baking my first loaves of bread gave me a sense of pride and a sense of purpose”.

Francesca began selling her bread at markets all over Greater Manchester and began taking orders from customers. She soon had back to back bookings for months on end and from the markets, came wholesale and internet orders through her website.

The next major step came with opening of her first shop, The Barker Baker. Talking about the opening, Francesca said:

“We had the most incredible start to the business, selling out daily and being welcomed by the local community. We had everyone in the shop, from people who’d lived in the village for 70 years, to young couples wanting something to go with their evening meal. It was everything I wanted it to be.

One day we offered everything we had for free, asking customers to make a donation to charity. We raised a great sum of money which we were able to give to Mind.”

In addition to the shop, Francesca now teaches baking workshops across the country with youth offending teams, probation services, women’s groups and prisons. She’s determined to share her story and her passion and help people to shape their own futures. For Francesca, The Barker Baker isn’t just about bread, the baking is therapeutic and was the stepping stone that allowed her to feel normal, to feel free and to feel good at something.

“This time five years ago I was on police bail awaiting my court date to find out what would happen to me. Today I’m sat in my shop, my bakery, doing paperwork, ordering stock, organising staff rota’s.”

The focus of The Barker Baker has always been about bringing social change and reducing the stigma of a criminal record and Francesca is as determined as ever to give others a second chance.

Since setting up the business, Francesca has won several national business awards including the coveted Best Female Entrepreneur Award 2014 and Business Newcomer of the Year Award 2015.

You can read more about Francesca and her business in the Manchester Evening News or by watching an interview she gave to National Prison Radio.



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Now I’ve got my professional indemnity insurance, I can start to believe that the best is yet to come

Bruce has worked hard to turn his life around after receiving a conviction two years ago. For a while however, it looked as though all his efforts would come to nothing when he was struggling to get insurance for his fledgling business.



In November 2016 I received a conviction for downloading indecent images and received a suspended sentence.

From the very first interview I had with the police, I couldn’t explain why I had downloaded and viewed those images as I knew in my heart that I’d never hurt a child in any way. I knew it was important that I got to the bottom of why I’d done what I did.

For four months following my conviction, I sold practically everything I owned to finance a course for people with sexual offences run by the Lucy Faithful Foundation. Over the course of the 10 week course, I came to understand how my use of porn to offset depression and stress led to an addiction to pornography and ultimately to my downloading indecent images. The course helped me to appreciate the pain and anguish behind the smiling images I’d been looking at and the abhorrent reality those kids were forced to live in.

There’s no escaping the shame and guilt I feel for what I did and the empathy I now have for the victims. In addition, I’ve had to come to terms with the impact my offending and conviction has had on my wife and family and I hope that over time I’ll be able to make amends and prove that I’m a better man than I was before.

Knowing why I did what I did allowed me to work through processes to ensure I’ll never re-offend again and start rebuilding my life.

Initially I was very optimistic; I walked out of court grateful for the chance to start again, a new beginning, a new improved me. The justice system and fate had given me the chance to prove myself and make a new future.

After finding it almost impossible to get a full time job due to my obligation to disclose my offence when asked, I decided to set up my own limited company. I could then do some of the contract work that was being offered to me.

I set up my website, organised business cards etc and began to set about marketing my consultancy. Four weeks ago I secured a really lucrative six month contract with a company, only to have it withdrawn when I disclosed my offence.

It was during this time that I also realised that it was virtually impossible to get professional indemnity insurance meaning I couldn’t put work through the company I’d set up. I never for one minute thought that getting insurance was going to be the thing that bought my business to a halt before it had even started.

I have always worked since leaving school and now more than ever needed to keep the money coming in so I could support myself and pay my way without being a burden on society.

However, now, no matter what I did, the requirement to disclose my offence stopped me from moving forward. As a self-employed person, I felt that fewer people would ask me about my criminal record and, having my own business would be the best option for me. The problem with insurance really started to make me panic as I didn’t know what I’d do when the money ran out.

After some further internet research, I came across Unlock and their list of insurance brokers and after ringing around I managed to get myself some professional indemnity insurance. It wasn’t the most competitively priced but it was affordable which was all that mattered to me. This has given my confidence a real boost and I’ve started to see light at the end of the tunnel. The requirement to disclose is still going to be an issue I am sure but at least now I have more of a chance to support myself and hopefully build on the foundations I now have in place for a successful business.

This is strange to say but the criminal justice system has worked for me. My increasingly introvert lifestyle and resulting unhappy home life was fuelling a downward spiral of depression and unhappiness that had me on a road that was only going to lead to tragedy. My arrest and the subsequent help I received stopped all that. It put me back on track, gave me the help I needed, and has led to a complete lifestyle change.

I now only ever use a computer for work and shopping etc and spend more time hiking, carrying out volunteer work for the National Trust and spending quality time with my family and friends.

I know one thing for certain, however hard it is for me now, it is still preferable to how I was before. As such, I am optimistic for the future and for a better, healthier, more productive life.

By Bruce (name changed to protect identity)


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My new life began to grow in a garden – starting again with a criminal record

Following a conviction for a sexual offence, Duncan thought his life was over. However with the support of his family and friends and by throwing himself into a new career he’s been able to seek help for the problems which led to his offending. He’s been amazed that despite knowing about his convictions many of his customers have been able to look beyond this and given him a second chance.

Two years ago I received a conviction for possession of extreme adult pornography. My life would have been ruined if it wasn’t for the support I had from my family and friends.

Within three days of my arrest, a night in the cells and a gut wrenching appearance in court, I was called into a meeting with my employer and ‘persuaded’ to resign. I immediately lost my 35 year career and knew that there was no way of ever getting back into it.

Six months later I stood in the court ready to be sentenced. Fortunately, I was only given a 12 month supervision order and the Sheriff (the Scottish equivalent of a judge) told me that “I needed help not punishment”.

I took responsibility for what I’d viewed online (nothing had been saved onto my laptop) and knew that I had to try and make amends for my stupid actions and deal with the issues that got me into this situation in the first place.

I went off to see my GP, received some medication and immediately stopped drinking alcohol (I’ve not touched a drop for 2 years now). However, I knew that I needed counselling to help me deal with my life long issues with pornography. I found out that counselling is very expensive and that I needed an income not just to pay for it but also to keep my mind and body active. So, with the qualifications I’d received over the years, a small business grant from the job centre and some specialist insurance for people with convictions (thanks to Unlock for help with this), I set up my own gardening business.

I knew it was going to be challenging to get customers. My case had been covered in the media, particularly online with my details added to the usual homemade sex offenders’ databases. Although my case had been twisted beyond all recognition, a search on google of my name really didn’t look good. Living in a small community I thought it would be impossible to get work so I used my second name for my business and started to advertise locally. I was still living at the same address so it wouldn’t have taken long for somebody to work out my name.

I was amazed at the response, my customer book was full by the summer and I had to turn people away. What was surprising was that a few customers knew me and knew about my conviction but still employed me – they were willing to give me a second chance.

I was able to book myself in for counselling sessions and I’m starting to move forward. The naming and shaming is still online and still irritates me but day to day it’s not a big deal.

What’s more important is that every day I have the words of my daughter ringing in my ears

It’s not what you’ve done in the past Dad that defines you but what you do from now on”.

By Duncan (name changed to protect identity)


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  1. Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  2. Information – We have practical self-help information on sexual offences and self-employment
  3. Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to sexual offences on our online forum.

A clear cut career choice – training to become a barber whilst in prison

Despite receiving many convictions as a young man, it wasn’t until Terry received a 12 year sentence for armed robbery that he made the decision to turn his life around. For the first time, he was given opportunities, advice and support that he’d never been given before and is now looking forward to helping others make something of their lives.



When you start to read this I hope you don’t think that I’m one of those grumpy old men. I’m really not.

You see things were different when I was a kid. Parents today encourage their children to be anything they want to be. They sign them up for all sorts of clubs and spend time driving them here there and everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. It wasn’t like that when I was younger. My parents made it quite clear that ‘our sort’ never amounted to much so my aspirations were quite low. My mum and dad weren’t uncaring, all my friends parents were exactly the same, we were just kids – to be seen and not heard.

Some of my mates did ok for themselves. They got jobs in factories, warehouses and on building sites but I wanted more. I just needed somebody to give me a bit of direction in my life. Sadly this came from a group of older lads who had what I wanted – a pocket full of money – who introduced me to a life of crime. It wasn’t anything serious to start with, a bit of burglary here and there but once you’re caught up in that way of life there’s no way out and the offences got more serious along with the punishments. What started off as a fine went onto become a suspended sentence until eventually I was convicted of an armed robbery and got a 12 year prison sentence.

I’d served short prison sentences before; they were a bit of an occupational hazard and despite the prison trying to put me on courses to improve my chances of getting into work, I always knew that when I was released I’d go back to my old ways. It was the only ‘job’ I knew. But that all changed when I got that 12 year stretch. My girlfriend had just had a baby and suddenly I wasn’t around to support them either financially or emotionally. Imagine knowing that your son would be starting school before you got to be a proper father to him. He’d either want nothing to do with me or he’d become a waster just like me – what a choice.

And so I made a decision. I’d try to change. I’d do the courses the prison offered me and start to plan for a future. I didn’t know whether it would include my girlfriend and son but I knew that I couldn’t carry on as I had been.

I moved prison many times and did loads of educational courses and I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be one of those guys that went into prison without an ‘O’ level and came out with a PhD. Study like this just wasn’t for me and I started to get quite disheartened until I moved to a prison up North which was set up to do a lot of practical courses – welding, carpentry, painting etc. I tried to get on the welding and carpentry courses but they were both over-subscribed with long waiting lists. Instead my Personal Officer put me on a barbering course!! What a joke. I’ve got to admit that I really threw my toys out of the pram – after all, I was an armed robber not a hairdresser!!

It didn’t matter how much fuss I made, I was on that course and that’s what I was going to be doing unless I wanted to be shipped out. So off I went on the first day to ‘hairdressing school’. The lady that ran the course, Lucy, may have looked proper girlie but let me tell you, she was something else. She wasn’t just a fantastic tutor but she took a real interest in every one of her ‘boys’. Not just what was going on in the prison but what was happening in our lives outside as well. She was firm but fair and for the first time ever I loved learning and found that I had a natural talent. I became Lucy’s star pupil and she pushed me more and more, teaching me how to do a flat top and graduated haircuts. I started to shave intricate pictures in the lads hair and whenever the barbers shop was open, I was always in demand. At last it seemed as though I’d found my calling – this was what I wanted to do when I left prison.

I was enjoying the course so much that the rest of my time in prison flew by. I knew that I wanted to be a barber when I left prison but couldn’t see anybody employing me. So I spoke to Lucy and she suggested that I think about becoming self-employed. She gave me some information about organisations that funded ex-offenders to set up a business and got me on a course in prison about self-employment. Before I’d left prison I’d written a business plan and made contact with several organisations who were willing to consider funding my new venture.

To cut a long story short, within 8 months of leaving prison I was in business. I managed to find a small shop at a very low rent and got some funding to pay six months rent in advance and buy some equipment. The shop took off really quickly and before long I needed to employ another barber. Who better than one of the guys from prison that I’d trained with. He wanted a job and I wanted somebody that I could trust. It’s worked out really well for both of us and I’m now in the process of working with our local open prison to offer a couple of guys training positions with us. There’s a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy involved but I’m determined to make it happen. Prison was the first time that anybody had taken an interest in me and given me a leg up and I’m determined to do the same for somebody else.

By Terry (name changed to protect identity)


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A life sentence can sometimes be just the beginning of a new life

Oscar was released from prison in 2001 having served 10 years of a life sentence. In his opinion, the increase in criminal record checks and the fact that employers have become a lot more risk averse over recent years means that it’s a lot harder to find a job now than it was 15 years ago.


I was convicted of murder in 1990 and served a 10 year sentence. Instead of getting bogged down in prison with petty activities, I used my time in a constructive manner and enrolled on many courses as well as applying to do an Open University degree. I achieved many qualifications and a degree in psychology prior to my release and I saw these as my tools to face the outside world and be instrumental in helping me open a few doors.

I was released in 2001 on licence, moved in with my family and immediately started applying for jobs. I applied for over 400 within a six month period but to no avail with the exception of 7 replies stating:

“Sorry you have not been successful on this occasion.”

I was not only disheartened, I was demoralised with the fact that I was willing to offer my skills and was only seeking a fair chance on an equal footing.

Whilst applying for jobs, I worked as a valet operator, motor mechanic assistant and any odd job I could lay my hands on. But these were not the occupations I was interested in. I wanted a job comparable to my skills, knowledge and the desire to help others develop. At that time it seemed like a distant dream but I never gave up and became more focused using targeted applications. It was not easy and with every day that passed without success the struggle became insurmountable.

Hey presto! My perseverance paid off. I was invited to attend an interview by a local training provider for an Office Administrator position. I was asked about my skills and knowledge, all aspects of my conviction, my attitude and outlook on life etc. Even before I got home, I’d received a telephone call offering me the job. I worked for the company for 12 years and during that time was promoted several times to eventually become their Education Manager.

I helped many disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and taught local college students and staff from Council’s, colleges and local businesses. I had access to all kinds of databases and personal information and worked hard to overcome the occasional discrimination and barriers which came up as a result of my criminal record. However, these oddities are part of life and one has to face them with dignity and use them as a fuel to step forward.

Unfortunately the company I was working for closed down as a result of funding cuts from government and I was made redundant. I started applying again for other jobs armed with the fact that not only had I put my conviction behind me but I had also gained significant experience and up to date knowledge with a reputable organisation.

I applied for 25 jobs in 6 months and attended 15 interviews. I went on to receive 6 job offers which were all withdrawn for different reasons – “pre-employment checks were not satisfactory”, “difficult for our partners to get security clearance” and “offer withdrawn on the advice of our HR department”. At no time did I withhold information about my conviction and I was always willing to discuss it at the interview.

Having been signing on for a while, the job centre decided to refer me to the Work Programme because I was struggling to find a job. The first thing the Work Programme advisor told me was to attend an Entry Level 3 course to learn how to write a CV and fill in application forms. This was regardless of the fact that my CV showed that I had previously designed and taught such courses myself. When I challenged the advisor he told me that I needed to be realistic about my prospects and it is a requirement to attend the courses or be sanctioned. I chose to sign off instead of being demoralised and diminished due to their inability to support me.

I have not given up yet and have started work on a self-employed basis and exploring other options such as being a trades-person. Before signing off benefits and starting on this journey I knew that I had to be prepared to face financial and emotional hardship. Work is scarce and hardly any money has been coming in for the last 6 months. But my wife and I do a bit of catering for small parties to make ends meet.

We live in a society whereby ordinary people are faced with severe hardship and have to rely on foodbanks to survive. It is all about survival of the fittest and that means the choice is ours to define and shape our level of fitness by making difficult and challenging choices.

By Oscar (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Oscar’s achievements since his release from prison 16 years ago begs an important question – what value is there is making him continue to disclose his past offence to potential employers? Yes, it was a very serious one, but he has clearly changed his life. Under the current rules, his conviction will remain “unspent” for the rest of his life. 

Stories like Oscar’s is why we are pushing for fundamental reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and why we believe there needs to be a way to seal criminal records. 


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Building my own dreams – What I’ve learnt from becoming self-employed

I knew that having a conviction was going to make finding a job difficult but I wasn’t prepared for just how difficult it would prove. I resigned from my previous job (at my employers suggestion) when news of my court appearance became public. I had a well-paid job, wife, house and a decent car; within months I had lost everything.

Finding a job became fundamentally important to me; not just to provide a wage but I hoped it would also help with my increasing feelings of isolation and anxiety. Unfortunately, I got the same result every time; sometimes it was simply no or a sorry we can’t put you forward, even worse was the silence, unreturned phone calls and emails. This continued for month on month and it began to feel that however low I set my sights the result was always going to be the same.

When I came to the conclusion I was just repeating the same action over and over again I decided to change tack; if an employer wasn’t prepared to take a chance on employing me would I be able to go self-employed or start my own business? I set about doing a lot of research on possible options and quickly found myself making a long list. After a few changes of mind along the way I decided to start a small business of my own.

Having made my decision I invested all my time, energy and a modest amount of cash in my new venture and thankfully I’m pleased to say that after a difficult initial six months there are now signs of progress. Thus far things have progressed slowly but surely and my business turnover is increasing steadily. Financially things are very tight; as business increases so does the necessity for more investment and the bills come in at a scary rate. I still constantly worry about my financial security both in the short and long term; in reality I need to make this work to keep a roof over my head.

Despite the worries, on the whole I have found the process very rewarding. Thus far I’m happy that I decided to ‘go it alone’, despite the difficulties and knock backs the positives still outweigh the negatives. Having a purpose to simply get up in the morning has helped with my general outlook and I dare to believe that there may be a brighter future for me ahead. I know it’s early days but I am at least doing something positive with my time.

I would encourage anyone stuck in a similar situation to consider the possibilities of working for themselves but to also think long and hard before making any serious career or financial commitment. For anyone considering going it alone the first thing to realise is that no one can tell you what is right for you. Like me you’ll need to take time and carefully analyse what options are available to you.

First off you will need to be realistic about what choices are available to you. If you have limited finances you can’t expect to buy a profitable off the shelf business; nor will you be able to kit out a swanky coffee shop with all mod cons. You may have to be more creative with the resources you have available to you, try to think what you enjoy doing and see if there is some way you can incorporate that in a new challenge. Just like applying for employment it’s worth considering what skills and experience you have to offer.

As most of you will be only too aware, having a conviction does put certain obstacles in your path and this is just the same for self-employment. I have had to take out a number of insurance policies with my business and having a conviction has made them all more difficult to obtain and of course, more expensive.

I have no personal exposure on social media; a conscious decision made in an effort to protect myself, similarly my business lacks an online presence and no doubt this has made it more difficult to find new customers. One benefit of being older is that I have been able to dismiss this as a personal choice/lack of tech savvy.

I have touched on the financial difficulties that have been (and are still) of concern to me and I can’t emphasise enough how important keeping track of my finances has been. You don’t have to be a financial wizard to do this, but you do need to be disciplined.

In part it has been easier for me to make the choice of going self-employed because of my personal circumstances. I don’t have the personal commitments that I once had and my social life is limited. On the plus side this has given me time and the energy to pursue a livelihood I would never have considered otherwise. More importantly it has made me more determined than ever to rebuild by life however long it may take; every cloud as they say!

By Robert (name changed to protect identity)


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