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Tag: Volunteering at Unlock -

Keep calm and volunteer

Unlock has been really fortunate over the years to find so many generous people that are willing to give their time and talents to help others. Here Roger tells us what he’s gained from his volunteering experience at Unlock.

As many of us know, getting a job with a criminal record can be hard and that was the position I found myself in several years ago. Getting those letters thanking me for my interest but telling me that my application wouldn’t be progressed was heart-breaking but even worse, were the employers that never even acknowledged them. A year of filling in forms or sending off my CV had seriously started to impact on my mental health and so, I decided to find myself a voluntary role.

Hallelujah, I found Unlock who were looking for a helpline advisor. As the helpline provided a peer-delivered service, for once my conviction was treated positively. The interview went well and before long, I’d started my training. Although it was interesting, it was also intensive and there were days when I left the office thinking that my brain was going to explode.

It probably took about 3 months before I felt confident in dealing with the majority of issues that people contacted us about although, it’s a constant learning process.

I currently volunteer on two days a week. The process of getting up and ready for work has added some routine and normality to my life and gives me a sense of purpose.

Some of the calls we take can be emotionally draining and when its busy it can feel quite stressful. However, knowing that the information or advice I’m giving will empower somebody to make well thought out, reasoned decisions is so rewarding. Just imagine somebody telling you:

“I can’t thank you enough for your help, you’ve just changed my life.”

Then back in March, we were hit by the pandemic and Boris told us all to ‘work from home’. We knew it was coming and the helpline was pretty well prepared. Although the number of people contacting us dropped, so too did the number of helpline advisors that were available to respond to enquiries. The helpline telephone landline was redirected to a mobile phone and all phone calls were answered by one advisor with one other responding to emails. Overnight we’d gone from 3 or 4 advisors each day to just 2.

Although the helpline was open throughout the lock-down, it was a very strange way of working and we were all relieved when we were able to return to the office at the start of July. The number of people contacting the helpline had started to increase and relying on just one advisor to answer all the telephone calls was putting them under a lot of pressure.

The need for social distancing means that there are still only 2 advisors in the office each day but it feels so good to have that interaction with colleagues. We’re receiving lots of calls from people who, as a result of the pandemic, have lost their jobs and are now looking for new positions (for some this will be the first time in many years and the first time they’ll have needed to disclose their criminal record).

These are indeed worrying times for all.

As I said at the start of my article, unemployment really did impact on my mental health but volunteering for Unlock was my salvation. We all know that survival is difficult without money and volunteering isn’t going to fill that need. However, if you find yourself struggling with feelings of anxiety, self-doubt or depression then I’d recommend getting in touch with your local volunteer centre to find out whether there’s anything available that ‘floats your boat’.

By Roger (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

We’d like to thank all of our volunteers both past and present for the work they’ve done and continue to do.

For many people volunteering is a positive and rewarding experience. It can help to boost self-confidence and self-esteem and if you’re looking for paid employment, adding it to your CV can make you stand out and look more attractive to potential employers.

Unlock’s volunteer programme for people with convictions has been running for many years and in that time, we’ve seen our volunteers go on to study for degrees at university, move into paid work or take on other volunteering roles. If you’re interested in joining our small, friendly team, take a look at the opportunities we have available here.

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on volunteering and you can find out more about the current vacancies we have at Unlock here.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussion related to volunteering on our online forum.


Some of our helpline staff and volunteers, 2016

Volunteers are a vital part of our work providing information, advice and support for people with criminal records. Volunteers undertake a variety of roles including working as helpline advisors, helping us monitor the impact of the helpline, working on our webchat and helping with the helpline administration.  We also have regular opportunities for people to help us by writing content for our websites, becoming an active contributor towards our forum and online resources, or helping us maintain and develop the information we provide.

We’d love to have you on board. You can find more details on current opportunities here or please contact us with any questions or for more information.

Our volunteer programme

People with convictions have been at the heart of Unlock (as staff, trustees and volunteers) ever since we were formed in 1999 by a group of former prisoners.

As a small organisation, we recognise the value that volunteers bring to helping us to fulfil our mission. Critically, for us, this involves giving people with convictions the opportunity to use volunteering as a stepping-stone in their resettlement process and ultimately towards stable employment.

More broadly, we are very keen to make it clear that we encourage volunteers who have previous criminal convictions. Not all volunteers at Unlock (nor do all staff) have convictions, but some roles (such as providing advice on our helpline) require people to have personal experience of having had a conviction.

We strongly believe that every volunteering opportunity deserves proper support and, given our very limited resources, we can’t offer nearly as many opportunities as we would like.

As and when opportunities arise, they will be listed on our vacancies page. We’ll also send out details via our newsletter, so sign up if you want to receive an email to your inbox.

Background to our volunteer programme

Since 2009, we have designed, piloted and developed a volunteering programme to provide opportunities for men and women from HMP East Sutton Park and HMP Blantyre House carrying out voluntary work, as well as opportunities to people in the community. Travelling to our office for a number of days each week, usually over a period of several months, volunteers are trained and supported as Helpline Advisors; gaining valuable workplace experience whilst at the same time supporting our wider beneficiary group. During transition periods (like leaving prison) volunteering helps people develop confidence, raise self-esteem, improve skills, and develop a positive identity by helping others. Throughout 2019/20 we worked with 11 volunteers who gave us 2,391 hours of their time.

Feedback from our volunteers

 “It helped my self-esteem in the sense that I began to believe that I could be a valuable member of a team in an environment which deals with quite complex issues. I was treated with respect by people I would often shy away from. It helped me with a few of my own personal issues in a positive sense.”

“When I first came to Unlock I was a bit unsure of what to expect, but nonetheless I gave it a try. It was a lot different to the environment that I was used to working in before I came to prison 6 and half years ago. Back then, I was working as a site supervisor with a London Borough Council which never required me to work in an office or be in one place all day however I did feel I had transferable skills which helped me. It was all new to me but I saw it as a challenge and after starting, everyone at Unlock made me feel welcome. These people knew where I was coming from and work to help people like me. This put me at ease a great deal as it was a lot easier to disclose without fear of rejection.

“Being in prison for such a long time as I have been, I quickly realised that even though I was ready to work and keen to work it would take a while to adjust to a working environment with every day people. Working at Unlock helped me to overcome this barrier. Whilst in prison I trained in IT which gave me the foundations to carry out some of the work required of me at Unlock but since working there my skills developed considerably and my confidence has grown enabling me to work even better at researching and compiling data to a good level, as well as communicating effectively through letters, emails and telephone.

“I feel that the experience has enabled me to grow as an individual. I got used to being independent with regards to travelling to and from work, organising my route and scheduling daily activities whilst at work. I met a great team of people at Unlock who were very supportive in my time of bereavement and gave me very good advice which has proven to be invaluable.

“I started at Unlock as a volunteer, because as a charity they were unable to offer me any full time work when my time came to start full time employment. I can honestly say that if they had the means to offer me full time employment I would have happily accepted their offer and stayed with them as I found what they did very interesting, enlightening and rewarding.

“Whilst at Unlock I applied for a position as Office Manager for a recently established organisation and was given a very good reference from the Unlock staff. If I had not worked at Unlock I do not feel I would have had the sharpened skills, confidence or drive to apply for the post. Some times it takes being with positive people to see positivity in ones own life, especially after spending so long locked up with other prisoners who have lost all hope and are filled with negativity and hopelessness. I went on to be successful in the interview and became Office Manager, where I started in May 2010.

“Once again I commend the Unlock team for all their patience with me and all their help and support. It was truly emotional.”

Stephen, Helpline Volunteer

You can read about other volunteers’ personal experiences of volunteering at Unlock in our online magazine, theRecord.

Can you provide pro-bono support?

We’re always keen to hear from individuals who have professional skills or services that they are willing to provide ‘pro-bono’ to help us provide our support. This might include you offering to provide pro-bono:

  • Legal advice to our Helpline
  • Training services to our staff and volunteers
  • Graphic design for our websites, materials and resources
  • Printing services for our marketing, so we can more widely raise awareness
  • Office/computer equipment, so we can help more people

Please email, with the subject line “Pro-bono support”, and provide us with more details or the skills/services that you’d like to offer.

Volunteers Week 2019 – A shout out to Unlock’s volunteers

Volunteer Week is celebrated between 1st and 7th June every year. It’s a week in which the UK celebrates volunteers and says thank you to them for the contribution they make. The week hopefully also raises awareness of the benefits of volunteering.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to have a positive impact on the lives of those who volunteer, assisting individuals to gain new skills and boost their self-esteem.

Volunteers are essential to the delivery of the support Unlock provides, and the skills and passion of our volunteers means that a small organisation like ours can make a significant impact given our size.

As Unlock’s advice manager, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is having the privilege of working with an amazingly diverse and talented group of people. I spend my time ensuring that our volunteers are happy, well-trained and feel supported in their roles whilst developing skills that will be useful to them outside of Unlock – hopefully they’d agree that’s what I do.

In 2018/19, our office-based volunteers gave 4,229 hours of their time to provide information, advice and support to people with convictions; they responded to 70% of the enquiries that our helpline received. Our team of home-based volunteers have carried out a wide range of research and content writing tasks. Their ability to convey information in a clear, concise and logical way combined with their IT and digital skills has been invaluable to us.

What do our volunteers say:

Since volunteering at Unlock I’ve become more confident about discussing my convictions. There’s no way that I’m going to keep letting my past affect my future opportunities” – Tianna


Sadly I had to leave Unlock last year when I moved out of Kent. When I was recently invited to an interview for a totally amazing job, I rang Debbie for some interview tips. When I was offered the job a couple of weeks later, I called her again for a reference. It means so much to know that I can keep in touch and they’ve got my back. I’ve got so many stories to tell about my time at Unlock which makes it easier to forget the bad times” – Louise


Before coming to Unlock, I was in a very dark place. Getting up each morning gave my life structure and purpose and meant that I could focus on something other than my own problems. Unlock literally saved my life” – Peter

A big thank you from Unlock


Want to give volunteering a try?

Have you been inspired by Volunteers Week? Find out more about the current volunteer vacancies at Unlock.

Thanks Unlock for being part of my journey – volunteering as a helpline advisor

Having met a member of the Unlock team during a Disclosure Workshop in prison, Reece was delighted to be able to continue this association when he secured a voluntary role as a helpline advisor.


It was early 2018 and I was nearing the end of my prison sentence when I was invited to attend a ‘Disclosure Workshop’ run by an organisation called Unlock. I’d never come across them before but the event looked as though it was going to cover more than just writing a disclosure statement (which indeed it did).

The first thing the speaker did was to tell us a bit about Unlock. I was surprised to hear that they were based in Kent, not too far from where I was going to be returning home to. It was weird but I almost immediately started to feel a natural affinity with this organisation – I guess when everything in prison is so strange then anything that’s familiar (in whatever way) feels good.

The Workshop was really good. It covered things I’d not come across before and dispelled some of the things you hear all the time in prison. There was plenty of time at the end to ask questions and it was obvious that the trainer knew her stuff and wasn’t thrown by any of the queries put to her. At the end of the event, I went to say thanks and mentioned that I’d be leaving prison in a couple of months and would be returning to Kent.

She asked me where in Kent I’d be living and whether I’d got a job to go to. I explained that I had no job but finding work was one of my main priorities as I couldn’t stand having no purpose to my day. She casually mentioned that Unlock took on volunteers to work as helpline advisors in their office and to get in touch when I was back home if it was something I’d be interested in.

Release day eventually arrived and I was off back to Kent – excited to be out but worried what the future might hold. I spent the first couple of weeks turning up for appointments with probation and the job centre and the more people I spoke to the more depressing the picture became:

People with convictions, especially those that have been to prison, find it virtually impossible to get jobs.

I’d realised that it was going to be harder than before my conviction, but ‘impossible’ surely not?

I went to sign on at a couple of agencies, all of whom told me that with my skills and experience, they’d have no trouble finding me work. That was until I told them that I’d just been released from prison having served just over a year of my 2.5 year sentence. After that I heard nothing.

Knowing that I had to do something to keep myself occupied, I contacted Unlock asking whether they still had any voluntary vacancies and explaining how I’d come to know about them. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to hear back from them, I doubted they even remembered me. How wrong could I be? Within a couple of hours I’d received an email back from Debbie, Unlock’s Advice Manager (and also the trainer I’d met in prison) who invited me to the Unlock office for an interview. The rest as they say is history.

I was offered a voluntary role as a helpline advisor and committed myself to two days a week. The training was intensive but from the outset, the support I got from the whole team was amazing; all of them were happy to help and share information with me.

I quickly realised that there are a lot of people out there who need the support of an organisation like Unlock. Funnily enough, not all of them had recent convictions, a lot were still having to deal with the consequences of a conviction they’d received 10 or 20 years ago! This sometimes made the job tough – listening to issues they were raising and trying not to compare their situation to my own.

On days when I was feeling a bit down, there was always somebody in the office to talk things through with and I realised that support is available, you just have to reach out for it.

My confidence and self-esteem improved hugely whilst I was at Unlock and this meant that I signed up for everything that was offered to me by the Job Centre; things I’d never considered before. My previous life had been spent working in an office but my new one is working in construction. I love seeing the results of my hard work and through the on-the-job training, I’ve gained a lot of new skills.

However, the beauty of this job is that nobody seems to care that I’ve got a criminal record. There’s a big labour shortage in the construction industry and all the site manager wants to know is that you’ve got the appropriate ‘cards’ to allow you to work on site and that you’ll pull your weight whilst you’re there. I’m earning a decent income and the physically demanding aspects of the job stop me from thinking about what could have been.

Thanks Unlock you’re an organisation that really does help people with convictions.

By Reece (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Volunteers are crucial to our helpline and come to us with a passion for Unlock and it’s mission. They give many hours of their time and provide an extraordinary service to our clients. However, volunteering is a two-way street and like Reece, many will benefit from the work they do whilst they’re with us.

If you’d be interested in volunteering for Unlock, take a look at the volunteer page on our main website.

Useful links


What I wish I’d known 8 years ago – moving on with a spent conviction

start-jobRecently I applied for a volunteering role with Unlock.

I filled in my application form, had an interview and was invited along to do a couple of ‘taster days’. The purpose of these are for Unlock to understand your skills but, more importantly, for you to decide whether the role is right for you.

I turned up at the office on my first day and can honestly say that it was a real eye opener for me. Meeting the other volunteers and staff and hearing some of the calls that were coming into the office made me appreciate the depth of knowledge that I would need. Navigating around the websites and reading some of the case studies was quite daunting but I could wholeheartedly relate to each and every one of them. I guess that’s why the helpline is run by people with convictions.

I received my conviction in 2001 for a sexual offence and got a short two month custodial sentence. Upon release, I went to visit my probation officer and can vividly remember her telling me that:

You shouldn’t assume you’re a free man, you’ll just be serving the remainder of my sentence in the community

More importantly, I recall her telling me that my sentence “would never be spent” and that “I would always have to disclose it” to any employer in the future. I never thought to question her. Why would I? She was my probation officer – an expert.

As I sat in the Unlock office on that first day looking through the information site and reading about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, I started to think that the information I’d been given by my probation officer all those years ago may not have been right. It looked as though my conviction might be spent after all. I realised that the only thing I could do would be to have a chat with one of the guys in the office. Sure enough, they confirmed my understanding. My conviction was indeed spent and I had no need to disclose it to most employers. In fact, I hadn’t needed to disclose it since 2008.

I left the office that night and this new information threw me right back to when my criminal justice journey started. It also made me realise that I hadn’t dealt with some of the issues regarding the process of coming back into a social life.

I didn’t realise that my conviction had been spent in 2008 and I felt let down that nobody back then had told me that I didn’t need to mention it on most application forms. I felt that I could have bettered myself and my life rather than ‘festered’ over the past 8 years. I can’t get that time back and it feels as though it’s been an extension of my original prison sentence.

I spent a long time that night chatting to my wife about my feelings and eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to concentrate on me. Unlock does a fantastic job and I believed their helpline deserved somebody fully focused on helping others – I didn’t feel that was me. I contacted Unlock’s advice manager and explained the situation. She was really understanding and gave me some great advice:

Spend some time getting your head around what’s happened but don’t let it blight your future. Concentrate on moving on. You won’t need to disclose your conviction for the majority of jobs and if an employer does a basic criminal record check, nothing will show up.

Well that’s exactly what I’ve done. Instead of dwelling on the ‘what might have been’, I’m looking to the future much more positively. Its a whole new experience for me ticking the ‘no’ box to the question about convictions on application forms and in many ways this has massively increased my confidence.

Unlock is an amazing charity, fighting for the rights of law abiding ex-offenders. I now know that I’m not alone in the problems that I’ve encountered and Unlock are addressing this issue by providing training to people that work with offenders – prison and probation officers included. It’s a shame that the training wasn’t around for my probation officer.

I appreciate everything that Unlock has done for me – the faith they had in me by initially offering me a voluntary role and then helping me to deal with the fall out after discovering that my conviction was spent. I’m pretty sure that as I no longer have to disclose my conviction, one of my job applications will soon be successful – I can’t wait. I’m still young and still have many years to make a success of my life.

By Isaac (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

My prison and volunteering journey – Volunteering at Unlock

volunteerPrison isn’t a nice place to be, let’s be honest. I was told so many times that I ‘stuck out like a sore thumb’ due to my diction and mannerisms. I just didn’t fit in, which in turn often attracted the wrong kind of attention.

So, I decided to concentrate on my studies which turned out to be a study of the British legal system. I soon earned the name ‘the barrister’ as my head was always in a legal book and I was always writing letters. This in turn led to one of the prison officers asking me if I could help one of the other guys write a letter to his solicitor. Well, one thing led to another and before long, I was teaching several guys to read and write via Toe by Toe, which is a system used in prison to assist those who have weak reading skills or dyslexic difficulties. This was my first taste of volunteering.

I earned the respect of the guys on the prison wing who’d previously been looking at me askance, as I clearly wasn’t ‘from their manor’ (‘or any other manor they were aware of …’). I later found out that my popularity had risen due to the fact that I didn’t judge or criticise anyone, I just tried to help where I could. I became a Prisoner Representative (basically a ‘mediator’ between prison management and prisoners). In some areas this went down well as I’m not known for being a ‘yes-man’. The authorities, however, were not so chuffed due to my habit of challenging the rules and regulations. With my sales skills, I sometimes had management helping the lads in way’s they’d never expected to, just because ‘I talked them into it’.

As part of my prison rehabilitation plan, it was necessary for me to do a period of charity work. The prison were able to offer several manual roles but, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m much more at home with a keyboard and a phone than a drill and a shovel. I decided therefore to start looking for opportunities to volunteer for an organisation where I could give my time and my skills but also get something in return. That’s why I chose to volunteer for Unlock. I wanted to learn all I could about what my life would be like outside, an ex-offender on licence. I knew that I had to know what the rules and regulations were going to be and I couldn’t think of a better place to learn.

Prior to joining Unlock I thought I knew a lot about prison and life for an ex-offender on licence in the community. On joining Unlock I discovered how little I actually knew and to be honest, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it all– there’s so much to learn and my mind struggled to take in the mine of information that’s on Unlock’s information hub. I’ve found the pages contained on Unlock’s information hub is akin to having a hotline to the Ministry of Justice but written in a way that ‘Joe Public’ can understand. I even find myself gravitating to Unlock’s sites in my spare time. I spend time reading sections on subjects that I’m not too clear on and I never fail to find new links that I’ve not looked at before. It’s a mine of information.

In the early days I must have driven the staff mad with my constant questions – I can remember asking the same ones over and over again but Deb, Unlock’s Advice Manager, was very patient and the information gradually sank in.

I know that my criminal record will affect almost every facet of my life once I’m released but unfortunately for those in prison, there is very little help available on the issues that ex-offenders will be faced with once they leave prison. Of the many charities that do exist to help ex-offenders on their journey to reintegration, I never realised how much Unlock challenge and petition the authorities and the commercial world, testing the boundaries in a bid to reduce the obstacles and stigma that prevents ex offenders becoming positive contributors to society once again.

The staff, management and trustees at Unlock are quite unique. Many have a criminal records themselves as do all the helpline advisors. Due to our own experiences, we are well placed to be able to relate to the problems of our callers. We have the advantage of having been through the trials and tribulations that our callers are experiencing and many of us have emerged from the criminal justice system ready to put our knowledge to work for the benefit of others.

Volunteering at Unlock has been a great experience but I don’t mind telling you that listening to people’s stories and giving them the best information and advice I can, means that at the end of the day my brain is screaming ‘no more please’. The work can be hard emotionally, especially when you answer a call to somebody in tears who believes that their world is imploding as a result of their conviction. But I’m always back at my desk ready for my next ‘shift’; I get a real buzz out of the work and I love the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve helped somebody and sometimes even put a smile on their face.

Each day I’m in the office, I take or make calls, reply to emails and conduct research. Believe me, if you put in a full day on the phone, properly listening to callers and their problems, you will be mentally exhausted by the end of it but – you’ll feel extremely satisfied with your efforts.

I believe that prison can either make you or break you – it’s a journey from the date of arrest, to court, trial and sentence but then the main journey through the system really begins. You survive prison. No two people have exactly the same experiences, everyone has their own perspective. I chose to learn as much about the system as I could and that’s why I sought out the helpline role with Unlock – to learn more about the next part of my journey.

I’ve now been at Unlock for 9 months and it has been an enlightening yet draining experience at the same time. The staff at Unlock are hard working and real committed (although they do have a jovial side).

Volunteering has given me knowledge and support in a way that I’d never previously imagined. As anybody who’s ever been in prison knows, you’re constantly watched, judged and assessed. It’s important that the authorities know how you’re likely to deal with problems and issues when you leave – will you take them in your stride or will you ‘flare up’. Whatever you do, it’s logged in your prison record. I take it all in my stride but I’ll often come into the Unlock office and ‘let off steam’. Deb always allows me to ‘vent’ my grievances when things get too much.

As a volunteer at Unlock I’ve never felt alone, left out or lost. There’s plenty of encouragement and nobody is afraid to say ‘ah, I didn’t know that’ or ‘ how do you …..’.  We are in essence, all in the same boat.

I can safely say that I’ll be volunteering for Unlock as long as I can. My friends in prison mainly talk about their aspirations or issues on release. They talk about financial matters, disclosing their convictions to an employer, what kind of jobs they’ll be able to do, probation, insurance etc,etc. Due to my work at Unlock I find myself saying to myself (subconsciously) I know the answer to that, or at least, I know where I can find out the answer – it is such an empowering feeling and long may it last.

By Rodney (name changed to protect identity)


Useful links

A big thank you to Maureen – The power of peer support

thanksWe’ve recently been sent this blog by Paula who was keen that we share it to let people know how important volunteers in prison and fellow prisoners are in supporting others to survive.


It was the anniversary of my release from prison yesterday and these words came to mind:

It’s time to build a bridge and walk over it.

This was my first introduction to solution focused thinking.

I lay on my bed broken by the realisation that I had been sentenced to eight years in prison and would miss numerous Christmas celebrations and birthdays with my five children. The pain paralysed me as I lay in bed, tears streaming silently down my face. I wasn’t getting out of bed, I wasn’t moving, I was dead but still alive in a prison cell.

It was a desperate, broken moment in my life; the moment when I realised the enormity of the punishment which lay ahead and how it impacted on not only me, but my kids and that I was the person responsible.

How to live with that guilt, that shame, that fear, that lack of hope?

Maureen, another woman sentenced to a long period in prison, but who was acting in the role of a volunteer peer supporter was my saviour.

It’s time to build a bridge and walk it over.

Don’t collapse, come out fighting, better and stronger, this is when you’ll find yourself; trust me, I’ve been where you are – I’ve got four kids but together we will get through it. Here’s a cup of tea, and here’s your tracksuit; let’s go for a walk around the perimeter’.

She didn’t let me argue. I needed help and here was help. I reached out and took it.

Thank goodness I did and I lived to tell the tale.

Thanks Maureen. Thanks for supporting me as a volunteer in the midst of your own challenges. I believed in you and then I believed in myself.

By Paula 


There are many Maureen’s out there. Some are part of organised schemes run in prisons but others are women who just want to provide informal help and support to others.

Peer support can be really important in prison and for many it is preferred to the formal support provided by psychologists and counsellors. Shared experiences mean that peers can offer judgement free support and understanding that’s different to the support provided by professionals. In addition, it’s often much easier to find a peer to speak to.

Peer support isn’t just one way traffic. Evidence states that becoming a peer supporter can have a positive effect on prisoners sometimes enhancing confidence and self-esteem, improving communication skills and generating a more positive self image.

Unlock’s own helpline has been peer-led since it started 7 years ago – we recruit volunteers from both the community and from nearby local prisons. A recent comment from somebody who spoke to one of our helpline advisors recently seems to bear out the research into peer support which was:

I felt that whatever question I asked, I’d get a straight response and know I wouldn’t be judged.

Useful links

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

Moving on with fire in my belly

Back in June last year, after almost nine years in prison, I finally made it to open conditions. Wow, at long last, I could start to imagine a life for myself away from prison.

Soon after arriving at my new abode, I met with my offender supervisor who told me that in order to complete one final piece of offending behaviour work, I needed to attend a series of meeting with the local Fire Service. She didn’t expand on this and foolishly, I expected it to be a bit like one of those fire talks you get when you’re at school. You know the ones, a fireman comes into assembly and after a chat you get the chance to have a go in a fire engine.

How wrong could I be? During that first one hour session, my life seemed to spin away from me as I was told each and every barrier that I would face as I was tested for release, upon release and then for the rest of my life. Work (paid or voluntary), insurance, housing – all were going to be impossible for me to achieve.

To say I was a bit of a mess after that first meeting was an understatement. In fact, the Prison Governor suspended any further meetings until I was in a fit state to deal with them again.

I’m not going to lie or beat around the bush – I was in a seriously bad way and turned again to self-harming, the first time in over a year. I had a list of things that I needed to achieve prior to my parole for release and they all seemed to be lost to me. How could I possibly reduce my risk if I couldn’t fulfil all the aspects of doing so, such as securing a voluntary position?

Things didn’t turn around over-night. Instead, I had to focus on staying safe and doing what I could do fairly easily. This included accompanied town visits and abstaining from drugs and alcohol in what was still a very new and quite scary environment.

Then I had a life changer – my brother passed away at the age of just 40 and my mother needed me more than ever before. It was time to chance my arm, knuckle down, try to really move on and get somewhere.

Off I went to the peer-led working-out team who assisted us in finding work. I’d already seen an advertisement for volunteers to work on Unlock’s helpline and, having gained an NVQ Level 3 in Advice and Guidance, and having worked within different prisons in one peer mentoring job or another, I submitted my application and waited with bated breath.

I got an interview. Not only that, I got a job. It was a feeling so strong that it totally encapsulated me – I did have a future after all.

This is really where the story begins.

I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time – for instance, insurers will give people with convictions insurance, companies will give people with convictions a job. It might not be easy, but it can happen.

But that’s not all. I’m working with new people now, new colleagues and a huge range of service users. This has really helped to rebuild my shattered confidence. I leave the prison twice a week to do a normal job and in those two days I feel like a normal part of society again. The things that last June seemed impossible, were not only possible but they’re happening to me right now.

In January, the sessions with the Fire Officer recommenced. I can tell you now that I walked in there much taller and stronger than before. I thanked the Fire Officer for his previous honesty but told him how I had been able to not only challenge, but also overcome the stigma of my conviction since our first meeting. I’m working, I’ve had my first home-leave to approved premises that will initially be my home upon release. I’m soaking up every bit of new information I can to help me now and in the future.

The Fire Officer didn’t say too much to me at the time. However, he’s been in touch with me since and told me that I’m not the only one that’s learnt something new. After listening to my story he’s completed changed his perspective – he’s told me that in the future when he deals with somebody in my situation, he’ll be happy to use me as an example of what can be achieved with a little determination and hard work.

So, what has volunteering done for me? It’s opened closed doors and given me the belief that life doesn’t have to end the day you’re convicted. It can just be the start of a different life.

By Frankie (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 volunteering and details of current vacancies at Unlock.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to volunteering from people with convictions on our online forum

Volunteering – Helping me to live life at last

I wanted to write about my recent experience of volunteering. Although it was at Unlock, I think my experience is is equally valuable to anybody who is looking for work and feeling despondent about the future. Volunteering was the start to a new brighter phase of my new life.

Prior to volunteering, I had been applying for jobs, getting to the interview stage and then being knocked back because I had a conviction. It would be fair to say that I felt excluded from society and would describe my life as surviving, rather than living.

Getting through the interview and being offered the volunteering role at Unlock was a big boost to my confidence. I was treated like a normal person throughout the whole process, even when discussing my conviction. I was being judged on my skills and abilities and not just on a piece of paper with my conviction on it. I felt accepted and empowered to prove that I still had the skills and abilities to work and contribute to help Unlock provide a good service to its clients.

I always looked forward to the 2 days I volunteered at Unlock, working with the staff and volunteers where I felt totally accepted. Everyone worked together to provide the best service to the people who would contact us for help and advice.

I felt normal, having a purpose to get up in the morning. Usually my life revolved around trying to get the enthusiasm to get up and apply for jobs that I knew I wouldn’t get because of my conviction. This changed with volunteering. I proved to myself that I was a good worker who had the skills and abilities to get back into the work place and contribute. I started to apply for jobs with a renewed confidence, feeling better able to deal with disclosing my conviction when asked.

Volunteering with Unlock opened my eyes to the multitude of issues that people with convictions have to deal with. It showed me that I was not alone and that there were people who were worse off than me, yet coping with life.

Just being able to give advice, information and support to people to help them move on, gave me a great sense of satisfaction and brought home the important work that Unlock undertakes, as they try to help people with convictions move on with their crime free lives.

I have now started a new job and whilst there are still challenges ahead, volunteering with Unlock has given me the confidence to deal with these in a more positive fashion, not to become depressed and move forward knowing that I am a good person who can provide an employer with a good employee.

I am now starting to live my life and not survive it.

By Robert (name changed to protect identity)


Finding my place in the world through volunteering at Unlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Unlock!

By Dave* (name changed to protect identity)

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