Angela Cairns shares her reflections on her first few months as Unlock CEO.
Not everyone is lucky enough to wake up in the morning and feel excited about going to work*. But after four months as Chief Executive at Unlock, I’m happy to say it’s a box I can tick.
What is it that makes me feel this way? Is it the great team of employees and volunteers? Is it getting positive feedback from callers to our helpline or users of our online advice services? Is it because as well as supporting people to move on with their lives at an individual level we take issues and make bigger, systemic, structural changes?
Yes, it’s all of these things.
However, at the crux of all of the above, is the belief held by everyone on the team that Unlock is a charity for people with criminal records.
Almost 12 million people in the UK have a criminal record. That might be you. It could be a friend or family member or someone you pass in the street. Each and every person with a criminal record is a human being who deserves the right to move on and live their life. But barriers exist to make this much harder than it should be. Having a criminal record affects your chances of getting a job, a safe place to live, where you can travel and many other everyday activities people take for granted.
A further barrier to moving on is the dehumanisation of people with criminal records. The labels we give to people stick. These labels impact the way people feel about themselves and make it harder to live ‘normal’ lives because they influence what others think. Of late, we heard the Prime Minister refer to people doing community service as ‘chain gangs’, and talk is of getting tougher on crime and criminals, with few positive solutions for the 12 million who can’t get a job or are turned down for housing – despite having served their sentence.
It’s time we as a society changed both the language and the narrative. The story needs to be about how we make it easier for people to put the past behind them. It should remind us that behind each statistic is a human with their own set of complicated life experiences.
The stories of real people and the real change that occurs when we collectively remove the barriers erected by a criminal record are what gets me out of bed, and why I’m proud to be part of the Unlock team. Let’s make this change happen together.
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*Some days I want to stay in bed – I’m only human.
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