I have a long criminal record (59 convictions under the Street Offences Act) and have experienced many barriers into employment. I was refused OFSTED registration due to my spent convictions when I wanted to become a child care practitioner and had to appeal OFSTED’s decision in a Care Standards Tribunal. I won the decision of the panel with no legal support whilst my opponents had a Treasury barrister at their disposal.

I was offered a Teaching Assistant role after declaring my convictions on an application form and in a written disclosure letter. Once my CRB (as it was then) came back, the conditional job offer was withdrawn. I had been in post for over a month but suddenly my application documents couldn’t be found (to prove that I had indeed declared my convictions) and my employers denied ever having seen my disclosure letter.

By now I was becoming extremely frustrated and started volunteering as a mentor for Catch 22 working with ex-offenders that were subject to probation services. I was also involved with St Giles Trust where I also worked as a volunteer. Both these roles involved helping people to overcome barriers into better and brighter futures.

I gained NVQ qualifications in Mentoring, Mental Health Awareness, Substance Misuse Awareness, Employability and a Level 3 in Information Advice and Guidance. I also attended many additional workshops to assist me in my volunteering roles.

I applied for a role with a Young Offenders Services and was accepted after interview. Again, I wrote a disclosure letter (this time with the help of the Skills and Employment team at the St Giles Trust) and got clearance from both the Directors of Children’s and Family Services.

I was contacted recently by one of the new Community Rehabilitation Companies and was invited to an interview for a Through the Gate role. I had put my CV on a website CV Library and they had found it. The long and short is that I was interviewed and offered the job. I needed prison clearance, but my prospective employers did not envisage any problems from my conviction. For any job, I make a habit of mentioning my conviction but most importantly, how they would positively impact on my service delivery.

I thought long and hard about taking up this role. The knowledge that my convictions wouldn’t be a problem was great to hear but my role at the Young Offenders Service was really expanding. I had started to act as an appropriate adult attending police stations and doing escorts to youth court. I’d also completed some training to facilitate restorative justice processes. In the end I turned down the job with the CRC but feel so proud of myself for getting so far in the process.

It has been a long tiresome road but I think that I am finally able to put my conviction history behind me and am now able to be completely empathetic to others in situations similar to my own using my personal experience to help them to move on.

I am sharing my story in the hope it will inspire and give courage to others facing the kind of obstacles I have scaled.

By Bernadette* (name changed to protect identity)

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