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I recently applied for a position with User Voice, I was unsuccessful on this occasion,however I enjoyed the experience. As an exoffender it was most reassuring to be interviewed on my ability and not on my criminal history. The other significant fact, was that though offender led the standard and skill base of the organisation is comparable to any third sector organisation.
I applied for a position as an engagement officer with my local probation service, only to be told I could not be considered until my licence had been completed. I can understand the decision, but it’s another barrier towards me gaining employment.
Adam moved to Australia when he was 6 and has been living there ever since. He was bullied and picked on since he was 10 up until 15.
When I turned 15 I’d had enough, resorted to drinking and being a complete idiot. When I started drinking, I’d started fighting, mimicking what I’d thought I would be like when I was drunk. I was doing exactly what the “Bullys” done to me, but worse. All my anger over the years had spilt out. I never had a major role model in my life, so my life easily spiralled out of control.
Adam had 7 months in prison on remand, and 13 months in a rehab and received a total of 48 months suspended sentence taking away 13 and a half months due to time served. Upon leaving prison, Adam got a job at a warehouse but his goal was to make it in the I.T. scene. However, due to his conviction in Australia, his application for a security license was denied
In the last 4 weeks of returning from the UK I’ve applied for 22 jobs, ranging from warehouse, I.T, gaming developing, gardener and construction, I’ve gotten replies from 13 saying that I’m unsuitable for the job because of my convictions.
I see it so often that young people like myself get in trouble when their young, because the police, the government neglects those most vulnerable that get bullied in school from as young as the age of 8 years old, they ruin their lives, yes we make our own decisions, but I never made the decision to be weak and not have the confidence.
Why does the world see an ex offender as the odd one out? It’s like bullying in my eyes. Oh you’ve done this 3 years ago, sorry I don’t think you’re good enough to be working for me. This world is in a downward spiral.
People can change, one simple mistake can change your whole life, but why does it have to be common that ex offenders, whether small offences or big cant have a job. It promotes re-offending. Most offences(like mine) were committed at a young age.
Adam says that he will strive to pursue his dream in the I.T. industry and hopes someone will give him a second chance in life.
I had issues from childhood really, there’s a line in the big book (a.a) restless, irritable and discontent, that was me before I picked up drink or drugs, I never felt RIGHT!
Along came drink and drugs, made me feel better for a while. Within months my life was a mess, was getting sent to prison, first prison sentence for robbery, thought if I stopped taking drugs id be ok, but with an addict our trouble centres in our minds. I learnt from that, got a life sentence in 07, rebelled for a year then got my head down and utilised every service. Was released in feb this year and am now a part time youth worker Sharing my experiences to help other people. Heard so many good things about User Voice so got in touch, look forward to joining the ranks, this is crucial.
I served 13 months in prison for fraud, and 16 weeks on HDC. Whilst I was in prison I lost my home and my partner, did not have many visits and was very lonely, so I read a lot and helped others with mentoring. I cried inward a lot and this made me stronger, I kept my nose clean and held my head up high. I also had taken the advantage of courses which were available and worked hard mainly in the Equalities and Diversity department. I also worked with other inmates who were not as lucky as me as they had difficulty with their English, reading and writing. I regret what I did to receive a prison sentence, and still have flashbacks about the court appearance and the sentence given to me. But, this has made a new path for me to walk on and I look at the world in a different perspective. I work voluntarily at the moment as no one will give me the chance of a paid position because of my background.
Having spent most of my life in and around the criminal justice system I have to say mostly my experiences were negative. Now at fifty years of age I have seen the error of my ways and accept the part I played in the long, painful and damaging episode which was my life. I always justified my bad behaviour on the bad behaviour and ill treatment of others around me
James has spent 38 years in and out of prison
I know that once you make the decision and commit to the lifestyle of a non-active criminal, take the first steps…you can and will change your attitudes, it will not be easy, believe you me, I KNOW!
While in prison, James started to develop serious heart problems, which eventually led to the decision to turn his life around.
At first it was just an inconvenience…and I carried on regardless. Inevitably my health got worse. And my family and loved ones more distant…Dying in prison is and never was on my agenda. My very first opportunity of probation and I have been extremely lucky to find a probation officer, (I cannot get used to the term offender manager) who has accepted me as I’ve needed to be taken, in my mind anyway. She introduced me to User Voice something that I feel would have impacted my whole way of life had I known about them years ago.
In prison and later in probation Martin saw firsthand the barriers Service Users face in trying to turn their lives around. Now, he is campaigning to change this:
If support is not available in real terms; a place to stay, furniture, finances and a reasonable lifestyle then most offenders are left with little choice than to reoffend to support themselves. I have petitioned local authorities and MP to make changes. I have also sourced real support in my local area and am now trying to raise the profile of these agencies to newly released ex offenders.
Unfortunately people like myself have made the wrong choices and have had to live by the consequences of their actions… yes I was one those caught up in the vicious circle of addiction, crime and prison… But there comes a time when every man or woman must make a life changing decision… the day I screamed out for help and I got it from the court, that’s when my life began.
First I had to get out of the mind-set that probation, prison, police and the system are the enemy… and accepted my part in them being involved in my life. The feeling of relief was so amazing.
I thrashed out what were my needs, engaged with the support of my Probation Officer, and separated my WANTS! (Cos I realised that I will never fulfil or get all my wants…cos when I get my Wants… I’ll want some something else and it will go on and on)
Today Anthony is out of prison, clean from all drugs, living safely and working. One year on he is the happiest he has ever been, and he says that all he has done to gain this happiness is use what’s available, access services, use the support and learn humbleness.
However what I would like to share with those who can influence change: use the untapped resource of the Ex-offenders’ knowledge cos I can guarantee they will know the who’s, what’s and where’s as to how change the criminal justice system, services etc.
The effect of smoking dope from the age of 13 has caused me severe mental health issues. I gave up smoking dope and any other drugs at the age of 23 after being in a paranoid psychosis for 2 years.
Michael was prescribed anti psychotic drugs and other medication and had to see a psychiatrist.
When I got clean I was diagnosed as having a chemical imbalance due to taking drugs from an early age.I am now 43 and still suffer with mental health issues and bad dreams. I have much more fun being off drugs and I am not on any medication for mental health. I go running as this helps the depression that I get.
Michael would like to give talks about his life experiences, to help inform young people about the possible consequence of smoking cannabis and that it is possible to give it up.
Jeanne spent 5 months on remand in Newhall in 2006/7 which was a life-changing experience for her.
I hadn’t realised just how much I’d bought into the tabloid view of ‘criminals’ and prisons till I experienced both for myself. I met some great women there who could see how green I was and looked out for me. And as a consequence, with three other ex-offenders and community activists we founded Breaking Chains – which has grown phenomenally ever since. So thanks to y’all.
Read more about Jeanne’s charity Breaking Chains.
Jason has been working in the drug and alcohol field for the last 10 years for several social organisations/ charities.
Over the years it has been drilled into me by service management and line management to keep my using past a locked secret – when I worked at [one association] we were told that if we self-disclosed we would be disciplined.
However, Jason has also worked for, as he describes it, a more user-friendly organisation. About the positive experience he commented:
It is good to see a service where you don’t have to hide behind your criminal past.
Jason’s journey started in February 2000 with an ex-user directing him into treatment.
Before that I had several key-workers who were degree trained but could not do street. In February 2000 I moved into the Diana Princess of Wales detox and then I moved into Quinton House project in Bournemouth for 6 months. I have been clean of my drugs of choice (heroin and crack) for just under 13 years.
Tony has been in and out of prison for the past 30 years for a variety of offences, ranging from theft to manslaughter. Tony was also heavily into drugs, namely crack.
Well in 2008 June I really hit rock bottom. I had a row with a guy who I mistakenly took for someone who had threatened my then partner,after an exchange of words I gave him a slap and my whole life changed from that moment on.
The man Tony hit fell backwards and fractured his skull. He died the next day. Tony was charged for murder, eventually this was dropped to one punch manslaughter, and he was sentenced to four years in prison.
Whilst inside prison Tony stopped taking drugs, and two years later he was released on license, within two days Tony was back to taking drugs. After a drug test Tony was recalled to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.
What I didn’t realise was it was the best thing that could have happened to me,as this time I realised that I did have problems and I needed help, I was in Belmarsh for twelve months and managed to do numerous in cell packs,one day courses,one month course and three six week courses all in all I left there with forty seven certificates and a letter to approach a drug agency upon my release with regards to getting some training.
Since leaving prison Tony has gotten an ETE worker who has paid for him to get his driving license back, and paid for two counselling courses. Tony has also completed a peer mentoring training at CRI and has completed volunteer training with them.
My life has completely turned around. I haven’t smoked any drugs in twenty two and a half months and in the new year I am going to apply for a full time job with CRI,truly I do feel extremely blessed and hope that my story can reach people with a positive message that things can change and there are people out there who are prepared to give ex-offenders a chance.
James committed his first criminal offence at the age of 17. Overall he committed four offences, the first for hitting a police officer whilst intoxicated after being arrested for criminal damage, the further three offences were also for criminal damage.
For four years after that I made three more very bad choices and decisions. All the following offences were for criminal damage, all whilst drinking and feeling generally lost in life. I am extremely remorseful of these moments of insanity and take full responsibility of my actions – never ever blaming anyone, other than myself for my stupidity.
In the eight years following this James achieved great success. He graduated with an honours degree, had regular employment, volunteered, created art exhibitions, built solid relationships, travelled and has also completely stopped drinking. James had dreams of becoming a fully qualified art teacher whilst currently working as a Teaching Assistant in a special needs school.
Sadly however only the other day that dream was smashed by poor judgement and discrimination. I applied for a job as a TA at another school in order to gain further experience and move into a larger, up and coming school. I had my interview which went very well and I was offered the position on merit. At the end of the interview I disclosed that I had a criminal record – I was not asked for this information at any time during the interview, I chose to freely give it.
James was asked to come into the school where he was told that he would not be offered the position any more.
I was totally humiliated, felt incredible shame and just wanted the ground to swallow me up. What made it worse was that this member of staff aired this private conversation for all in the main reception to hear, including another member of staff who was about to start work there. I remained calm, professional and polite. I thought maybe they would hear me out and I was looking forward to an open, honest and frank discussion. I appreciate it is a schools prerogative whether they hire an ex offender but the way in which I was treated was not acceptable. The offences I committed were not relevant to position and I wasn’t even given a chance to explain what I had done wrong and explain that my successes in almost a decade since then far outweigh these negatives. They were clearly impressed with my achievements but once they found out I had a past they judged me purely on that.
Due to this James now says that he has given up on his dream of becoming an Art Teacher, and believes that certain offences should be removed from criminal records to avoid this sort of discrimination, which occurred almost a decade earlier and had nothing to do with his ability to teach.
I was made to feel ultimately that people never truly change and that I pose a risk and I cannot be trusted. Very sad but I remain positive and will always remain to do the right thing.
Ez was first incarcerated in a secure unit at the age of 11. This was a means of safeguarding, as she had been continually running away from the home she lived in at the time, where she had been sexually abused.
She had her first child at 14, and had 4 children by the age of 20. It was at this time that she became addicted to stimulants, for the next 23 years of her life. This addiction led to her being arrested with intent to supply amphetamine, possession of cocaine and cultivating cannabis.
I was released from prison in February 2011, after serving 1 year of a 3 year sentence. I am still on licence until November 2012.
I have been in recovery now for 3 years within the NA fellowship & have sponsored other recovering addicts through the 12 step programme. I also did extensive voluntary work with a diverse range of hard to reach clients with complex needs for a variety of organisations.
Ez is now employed as an advice officer for a large social housing provider, in the worklessness division. She gained this employment following an Education, Training and Employment referral by her Probation Officer.
Since then I have been held up as an example of ETE success, having represented our project by publicly speaking about my life experience and recovery journey to an audience of 70 probation networking employees. I have also been involved with feeding back to influence future policy, following the Womens Thematic Inspection, to Walsall Probation Trust.
I have overcome many obstacles in my life and am a cheerful, confident and capable person who is able to talk candidly with insight on a wide variety of social disadvantages and their effects in the search for solutions.
Stephen came out of prison on 21st December 2004. He started doing voluntary work with Drug and Alcohol services, empowering users to collectively use their voice to inform on service provision.
I volunteered for 4 years to put ‘something constructive’ on my C.V. Now I am a Service User & Carer Involvement Coordinator for a London Borough in full-time employment and I have never looked back.
Stephen also does voluntary work for the London User Forum and works in conjunction with the National Treatment Agency (London Team).
It will not be everyone’s path but I am living proof you can go from ‘career criminal’ to making a positive impact for Community Recovery & Reintegration. The key word for me was PERSEVERANCE!
Darren attended the User Voice criminal justice seminar which was held in Birmingham in 2008. He is an ex-offender with 24 years of offending and has spent about 12 of those years in various institutes.
After leaving the seminar, I left a different person. I was inspired and could not sleep the night I got home. I began pursuing ways that I could make a difference and inspire change in others also.
He began to educate himself and is now a drug and alcohol worker.
It has taken me three years to gain recognition for my skills and abilities and to be trusted. Although it was never said, I knew there was a reluctance to employ someone with a CRB like mine.
Although Darren finds his work rewarding, he still wants to do more.
To try to make people understand that you have changed and are not that person is the hardest thing. I met people who believed me and I am quite sure behind the scenes they worked hard to make those who matter in terms of me gaining employment realise that I would be a great asset, someone who could also give great insight as I have also been a service user.
I would just like to say thank you to User Voice for what you put together on that day, the mood was electric and has changed my life for the better.
Jade, 15, does not get on with her parents.
She has been repeatedly kicked out of home and ended up sleeping on friends’ sofas; soon she was smoking weed and snorting cocaine. School wasn’t any better.
She felt she didn’t fit in and kept getting into fights. Having head butted a teacher and fracturing a classmate’s cheekbone in a fight, Jade was arrested.
Working with User Voice has let Jade see that she can have a different kind of life.
After taking part in several workshops, she had the opportunity to take part in a visit to the Cabinet Office to discuss the problems young people like her face in turning their lives around.
She was also encouraged her to start work experience in a salon and claims without User Voice she would be a ‘thousand times worse’ than what she was.
I want a life. I’ve got a chance. Mark [Johnson] talks sense and the thing is I wouldn’t take that from anyone else. He’s been through it and so I know that he’s giving me good advice. If it was someone talking to me who hadn’t lived his life I wouldn’t listen. I’d just think, who are you telling me this?
Corey came to User Voice through the West Midlands Gang Mediation and Transformation Service.
As an offender he couldn’t get a job. In working with User Voice he developed communication skills allowing him to move on with his life. After participating in conferences including one at Westminster he now works in the music industry.
Having a voice is the main thing. It may be a little thing to someone else, but excluded groups don’t have that. Being able to speak on their behalf is an important thing.
Oliver did not have issues with drugs until he was given prescription medication, then his drug use became problematic.
I didn’t really have any issues with drugs until I went onto prescription medication, which I believe I should not have been prescribed. The medication (anti-psychotics) gave me strong cravings for any form of stimulation, speeding, drugs, eating food, pacing around incessantly etc… and my drug usage became a problem to myself, I wasn’t able to stop using them. I stopped using one drug only to move onto another, eventually moving onto heroin.
Oliver stopped the medication, and the cravings subsided; he managed to stop his drug use. He has experienced pain and feels that it could be a medical condition, but he has abstained from drugs.
I’ve been clean for well over 2 years now, not a sausage. I did this by taking myself out of the environment and making sure I didn’t have a spare tenner on me.