I am grateful that South Yorkshire Police believe in rehabilitation, in second chances.
If they didn’t, then I, a former criminal who has served time in prison for some serious offences, would not be writing these words. My time inside changed me permanently, and not all for the better either. I however, was one of the lucky ones. Prison staff took a chance on me and put some structure and support in place for me upon release.
They found me a job with The Cathedral Archer Project, a homeless charity based in Sheffield. Part of this wonderful organisation is a social enterprise called Just Works, an award winning holistic and recovery based back to work programme. They run a cleaning company and a screen printing business in Sheffield, staffed by ex-homeless people, former drug and alcohol users and those other vulnerable adults who have slipped between the cracks in our society. I have never looked back, I remain there today. I love my job and hope to continue there for the foreseeable future.
However, one aspect of my future that still seems unattainable is the prospect of a conventional full time job.
Just Works are trying to assist and support multiple people, our objectives are to provide supported work opportunities to enable a return to the workforce, the idea is to have our part time roles within the framework of just works and develop ourselves into a position to also attain work without.
Having a criminal record is of no interest to my current employer, thankfully. It is, however, of great interest to future ones.
As I was sentenced for a violent offence my conviction never becomes spent and legally must be declared to future potential employers. I take full responsibility for my crimes. My actions deserved every day of the sentence that I served. I used those twenty two long dark months to better myself, becoming clean, sober and fit. I left prison full of uncertainty but also more than a little hope.
Serving one’s sentence is only the first punishment. The discrimination demonstrated by potential employers or educational institutions is the second. Rehabilitation is surely the complete and successful reintegration of a former offender into society. I think that I and others like me have a lot to contribute to society, because of our pasts and lived experiences not in spite of them. Is it not time to try a new approach and begin to draw upon this vast untapped pool of labour and potential and to allow us to truly pay back our debts to society?