Many people assume that once they’ve got a criminal record, they’ll never be able to work with children or vulnerable adults. As Danny’s story shows, this is not always the case.
What can I say about my childhood – it wasn’t great to be honest. I was the middle of three kids, all born within 4 years of each other and my mum was a typical wonderfully caring woman whilst my dad was a real disciplinarian (probably due to his having served in the army for many years).
When he left the services my family settled in the South of England and one of my earliest childhood memories was the bitter arguing and fighting between my mum and dad. My dad moved out for a while but came back pretty quickly and the fighting and arguing just continued as before.
I started a fantastic junior school in the 70’s but because I was made to wear jumble sale clothes and my dad shaved my hair into a skinhead cut (just like I was in the army) I was bullied a lot. This wasn’t the worst thing though because at about the same time my dad started abusing myself and my sister. In my case, the abuse carried on for many years, right up until I started secondary school when it stopped suddenly. However, he continued to abuse my sister who told nobody about her experiences.
My father’s abuse affected many parts of my life, not least my education. I was continually disruptive in school but when the head teacher called my parents in, my dad would punish me further by beating me until I was black and blue.
By the time I was 12, I’d started getting into trouble with the police – silly stuff like shoplifting and other petty crimes but eventually I was sent to a detention centre in Kent for 4 months. This is going to sound crazy but I was the happiest I’d ever been. There were no beatings, no abuse, no fights, no arguing.
After years and years of abuse, my sister eventually found the courage to confide in her boyfriend about our father and encouraged by him, she went to the police. My father was arrested, charged and sentenced to many years in prison and we all moved back to the North of England. I continued to get into trouble and served another 4 sentences in detention centres and prison – offending was now part of my life and I couldn’t see any way out of it.
Then I met the person who was to change my life and would become my wife. Having somebody in my life that I loved and who loved me made all the difference and I was determined to change my life for the better. So I started working in a variety of jobs, mostly in factories, until I got a start in retail. I loved the work and within a few years I’d been made a department manager in a large high street store. I got married and my wife gave birth to our beautiful daughter who was (and still is) the apple of my eye. Every decision I made from then on was based on my ability to provide for and spend time with my family. I wanted to make sure their lives were different to mine.
Having started to do OK for myself both personally and professionally, in 2009 I decided to spend some of my spare time volunteering with the Barnardos Heartbeat Project. I was working alongside a guy called Bob delivering sessions to hard to reach young people which looked at the causes of their offending and provided them with strategies they could use to overcome their cycle of offending. I’d been volunteering for about 6 months when I was asked by one of my managers to apply for a paid job with them as a project worker in my local area. To cut a long story short, the interview went well and I was offered the job – what followed was one of the most rewarding times of my entire working life.
Whilst working at Barnardos I gained a number of qualifications including Level 3 NVQ’s in Advice and Guidance and Counselling and a PTTLS teaching qualification. I gained an ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network) delivery qualification and started delivering employability training to young people studying vocational courses at a local college. I still work in the same type of job now but with people with special needs as well as young people. My own experience has shown what you can achieve if somebody believes in you and my job allows me to help others to see a future for themselves. It’s immensely rewarding and I look forward to getting up in the morning and going to work.
My relationship with my mum remains good and in 2012 she nominated me to be an Olympic torchbearer in my local town. An amazing day that I’ll never forget.
I’ve tried hard to understand why my dad did what he did and I’d started to see him on a regular basis. On one of my recent weekly visits, despite ringing the doorbell and hammering on the door for what seemed an age, I couldn’t get any answer from him and, after looking through the keyhole and seeing his keys and phone on the hall table I began to get really worried. I phoned the police who broke into his flat where we found my father dead on the floor.
Finding my dad like that was so hard. There was still so much I wanted to talk to him about and I never got a chance to do that. At his funeral, I talked about forgiveness and how important it is to forgive others because life is too short.
My real message to anybody with a criminal record who feels that society has given up on them is this: Please believe in yourself and let others see how determined you are to succeed. I left school with no qualifications, no prospects and a criminal record as long as your arm. I wanted to work with young people but I was worried about rejection. However, I had nothing to fear – there are organisations that are looking for people just like you who have lived real life experiences and can relate to them.
By Danny (name changed to protect identity)
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