Despite receiving many convictions as a young man, it wasn’t until Terry received a 12 year sentence for armed robbery that he made the decision to turn his life around. For the first time, he was given opportunities, advice and support that he’d never been given before and is now looking forward to helping others make something of their lives.
When you start to read this I hope you don’t think that I’m one of those grumpy old men. I’m really not.
You see things were different when I was a kid. Parents today encourage their children to be anything they want to be. They sign them up for all sorts of clubs and spend time driving them here there and everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. It wasn’t like that when I was younger. My parents made it quite clear that ‘our sort’ never amounted to much so my aspirations were quite low. My mum and dad weren’t uncaring, all my friends parents were exactly the same, we were just kids – to be seen and not heard.
Some of my mates did ok for themselves. They got jobs in factories, warehouses and on building sites but I wanted more. I just needed somebody to give me a bit of direction in my life. Sadly this came from a group of older lads who had what I wanted – a pocket full of money – who introduced me to a life of crime. It wasn’t anything serious to start with, a bit of burglary here and there but once you’re caught up in that way of life there’s no way out and the offences got more serious along with the punishments. What started off as a fine went onto become a suspended sentence until eventually I was convicted of an armed robbery and got a 12 year prison sentence.
I’d served short prison sentences before; they were a bit of an occupational hazard and despite the prison trying to put me on courses to improve my chances of getting into work, I always knew that when I was released I’d go back to my old ways. It was the only ‘job’ I knew. But that all changed when I got that 12 year stretch. My girlfriend had just had a baby and suddenly I wasn’t around to support them either financially or emotionally. Imagine knowing that your son would be starting school before you got to be a proper father to him. He’d either want nothing to do with me or he’d become a waster just like me – what a choice.
And so I made a decision. I’d try to change. I’d do the courses the prison offered me and start to plan for a future. I didn’t know whether it would include my girlfriend and son but I knew that I couldn’t carry on as I had been.
I moved prison many times and did loads of educational courses and I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be one of those guys that went into prison without an ‘O’ level and came out with a PhD. Study like this just wasn’t for me and I started to get quite disheartened until I moved to a prison up North which was set up to do a lot of practical courses – welding, carpentry, painting etc. I tried to get on the welding and carpentry courses but they were both over-subscribed with long waiting lists. Instead my Personal Officer put me on a barbering course!! What a joke. I’ve got to admit that I really threw my toys out of the pram – after all, I was an armed robber not a hairdresser!!
It didn’t matter how much fuss I made, I was on that course and that’s what I was going to be doing unless I wanted to be shipped out. So off I went on the first day to ‘hairdressing school’. The lady that ran the course, Lucy, may have looked proper girlie but let me tell you, she was something else. She wasn’t just a fantastic tutor but she took a real interest in every one of her ‘boys’. Not just what was going on in the prison but what was happening in our lives outside as well. She was firm but fair and for the first time ever I loved learning and found that I had a natural talent. I became Lucy’s star pupil and she pushed me more and more, teaching me how to do a flat top and graduated haircuts. I started to shave intricate pictures in the lads hair and whenever the barbers shop was open, I was always in demand. At last it seemed as though I’d found my calling – this was what I wanted to do when I left prison.
I was enjoying the course so much that the rest of my time in prison flew by. I knew that I wanted to be a barber when I left prison but couldn’t see anybody employing me. So I spoke to Lucy and she suggested that I think about becoming self-employed. She gave me some information about organisations that funded ex-offenders to set up a business and got me on a course in prison about self-employment. Before I’d left prison I’d written a business plan and made contact with several organisations who were willing to consider funding my new venture.
To cut a long story short, within 8 months of leaving prison I was in business. I managed to find a small shop at a very low rent and got some funding to pay six months rent in advance and buy some equipment. The shop took off really quickly and before long I needed to employ another barber. Who better than one of the guys from prison that I’d trained with. He wanted a job and I wanted somebody that I could trust. It’s worked out really well for both of us and I’m now in the process of working with our local open prison to offer a couple of guys training positions with us. There’s a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy involved but I’m determined to make it happen. Prison was the first time that anybody had taken an interest in me and given me a leg up and I’m determined to do the same for somebody else.
By Terry (name changed to protect identity)