I’m currently on my way to London to give a training session on ‘disclosing criminal convictions to employers’. “Been there, done that” I think. It’s been almost three years to the day since I walked out of those prison gates – no job, middle-aged and back to living with my parents.
Wow – so much has changed. I’ve got a job I love, working with people with convictions, giving them advice on what and how to disclose their convictions. I’m renting my own house now and going on a holiday abroad next month for the first time in 8 years.
Sounds like I’ve had it easy. But I’ve been through the same as many of you reading this.
I left prison full of hope for the future. My personal officer told me that I’d been punished for my crime, and that I could now leave all that behind me and concentrate on the future. “You’ve still got the same skills you came into prison with and lot’s more besides” she said. She’s right. I’ve almost got a degree, courtesy of the Open University, and I’ve learnt 101 ways to use tinfoil courtesy of my cell mates (not sure that’s going to come in quite as handy!)
I had my first job interview 2 weeks after coming home. It went well. Small company, new offices and I immediately built up a good rapport with the interviewer. This job’s mine I thought. “Any other questions” the interviewer asked. I disclosed my conviction. He looked stunned and said “Why did you have to tell me that? You were without doubt the best person for the job but now I know about your conviction, you are too much of a risk”. I tried to explain that I didn’t see myself as a risk – “I see my probation officer every week, I don’t want to re-offend, I can’t afford to do anything wrong. I’ve learnt my lesson, paid the price ……..blah, blah, blah”. He was very kind but no job. He should be proud – it was the best rejection ever.
I lost count of the number of jobs I applied for – hundreds. Most didn’t answer at all, some told me I didn’t have enough experience and a few invited me for interviews. After that 1st experience I didn’t disclose my criminal conviction at interview anymore, I and managed to secure 3 jobs. As soon as I got a job offer, I told them that I had a conviction – it was a specific condition of my licence that I had to disclose to employers. Of course, at that stage, the offer would be revoked.
I truly believed I was a positive person but boy, those rejections started to really knock my confidence. It was hard living back at home again but with no job I couldn’t afford to move out. As my self-confidence hit an all-time low, I applied to do some voluntary work with ex-offenders. After a great interview, great news – they wanted me. They thought I had lots to offer, I could be a real asset. They even said they may be able to offer me paid work at some time in the future.
I volunteered just one day a week but in that time, I began to get my self-belief back. I felt valued, I had a purpose in life again and it gave me the confidence to I throw myself once again in applying for paid work. Several months after release, I got a part-time paid job – working in retail. Never done it before but I was upbeat and decided that this would now be my future. I’d work hard, get promoted and that’s exactly what happened. I started to be offered more hours until part time became full time, I was then asked to go for promotion and got offered a supervisors role with the promise of a managers assessment after 6 months. I gained more knowledge, got more confident and then saw an advert for my current job.
I’ve never wanted to be defined by my time in prison but, it has had a massive impact on the person I am today. I always wanted to use this experience in a positive way and when I saw my current job being advertised I felt that potentially it could be my ‘dream job’.
Disclosing convictions is never easy, however many times you do it but the interviewers tried to put me at ease and I was as honest and upfront as I could be. After a long 2 week wait, the news I had been waiting for – success.
I’ve had good days and bad days in my search for employment. There is a lot of negativity about getting a job with a conviction but at the end of the day it only takes one person to give you a second chance and those people are out there. You certainly have to work harder to sell yourself and you will definitely hit some brick walls along the way. You might not be able to work in the field you did prior to conviction – look “outside the box”. This might be just the time to go into a new career, train in something new, set up your own business – the possibilities are endless.