I’d like to share with you my journey since I received my conviction over 5 years ago. In 2010, I received a conviction – the first time ever I’d had a run in with the criminal justice system.
Shortly after sentencing
Shortly after I was sentenced, I fell into a really bad rut. I lost my job and along with it, my future due to the chain reaction this caused. I disappeared off the grid for a year, closing up and only staying in contact with close family and a few very close friends. During this time I’d continued to play the ‘what if game’, the same one I did when I was awaiting sentencing. Believe me this isn’t constructive, it’s unhealthy and can make things that are completely out of your control seem a lot worse.
I considered myself unemployable due to the horror stories that I’d read online and so I signed on with the job centre. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t face years of not working, just surviving on benefits.
Coming to terms
I had difficulty coming to terms with what had happened. I kept harping back to where I was, prior to being arrested and sentenced to where I was after my arrest. All the stress I went through meant that I was a changed person and to an extent I still am. I view life completely differently now.
Prior to my arrest I worked in the City for a big financial organisation. I was building a career for myself and was looking to move abroad with my partner. There was no way I was going to be able to get back into that position and it was that sole fact that I had to deal with and come to terms with very quickly.
The fall from grace was long and hard but hitting rock bottom was the worst. I went through some of the lowest points of my life – depression, worthlessness, even suicidal thoughts. It was a really dark time but I managed to pull myself out of it.
How did I do it? With a lot of help – close friends and family that I’d kept in touch with and believe it or not, it was also with the help of my probation officer. I also used Unlock’s forum – I’d sit for hours and read what people had written, taking their advice and finding some solace knowing I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. After a while, I decided to become a member myself and started to contribute.
In and out of employment
After 12 months I accepted the fact that earning £30k a year was in the past and I’d have to work my way back up the ladder of trust and responsibility. It’s a game changer but once you accept it you can start to move on and rebuild yourself. It’s a lot healthier – applying for the same job that I did before sentencing wasn’t the way forward.
So there I was earning £6 an hour labouring on a building site. It was a culture shock but one I adapted to quickly and actually leant to enjoy. Finally earning money after 12 months out of work meant that I was able to get out and start meeting new people. It did me the world of good.
However, the joy wasn’t to last long. I’ve always been open and honest so when the agency I worked for asked me about unspent convictions I thought ‘no problem – I’ll tell them’. Needless to say, I was released from their employment straight away.
This happened a few times before I learned my lesson. Yes, it dragged me back towards depression and worthlessness, but knowing I’d got employment once fuelled me on. I turned to the Unlock forum again for advice and one member in particular told me:-
Apply for jobs that don’t require a criminal record check. As soon as you know a checks going to be done leave and seek employment elsewhere.
As dishonest as this may sound, believe me, this is the only way that I’ve managed to remain in employment for the past 5 years. Yes the jobs have been hard graft and in some cases damn right dirty, a far cry from crisp shirts and clean suits but it paid the bills
I’ve mainly worked in construction – labourer, handyman, tradesman’s mate and in all fairness on some of these jobs I’ve disclosed and kept my job. It’s a matter of weighing people up, knowing who to tell and who not to tell.
I’ve learnt a lot of new skills through my experience – DIY, management and most importantly life skills. I’ve met a new partner and new friends none of which I would have done were it not for my conviction.
Returning to the social circle
12 months after my conviction an old mate saw me in a pub and convinced me that I needed to get out of the social rut I was in. Being out of contact with friends for a year makes it difficult to return to – the thought of all those questions made me anxious about seeing old mates again.
I found that dealing with questions from friends is the same as employment, you don’t have to tell everyone you know about your conviction. In my case I put it down to losing my job and splitting up with my partner that had made me isolate myself and it was only my new job that enabled me to return to the social scene.
Slowly and surely with the support of my family and mates I started to regain some normality and move on from the past. My attitude to meeting new people changed, I got my confidence back and entered into a new relationship. I decided to be up front and honest with my new partner about my conviction quite early on. I felt so much better for doing so and I think it has helped her to understand me a lot better.
A steep learning curve
4 years into my sentence, changes were made to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which I considered to be the best news ever. My conviction was spent, I applied for a job with a large company and was successful. No more manual jobs for me and a huge step towards going back to where I was before sentencing. I’d never seen this coming – didn’t dream it could happen.
All was going really well. I’d settled in fine and was finally earning a decent wage. I’d applied for my basic criminal record check and was really looking forward to handing over my clean certificate. But, once again, my world was hit with a sledge hammer. The certificate came back displaying my conviction clear as day. I researched frantically, challenged the check and sought legal advice.
Eventually I contacted Unlock and although I appreciated the time and effort they put in to researching my situation, what they told me was so disheartening. My ancillary order prolonged my rehabilitation – my conviction wasn’t spent after all. I had to wait until my order came to an end. So back to the agency I went and continued to work through them until my order finished.
As soon as the order ended, I began to apply for more jobs and was invited to 3 interviews with 3 reputable firms, all of whom offered me jobs and asked me to provide a basic disclosure certificate. I accepted a job with one of the companies and not a moment too soon, I was able to hand over my blank basic disclosure certificate.
As you can see, over the past 5 years I’ve been through a lot. I’ve lost friends, jobs and a piece of myself. I have a more serious outlook on life now but I also have a wealth of knowledge gained from my experiences. So what would I do differently:-
I would definitely have immediately applied to the Open University to study for a degree. Looking back, I could have used my time to learn and rebuild myself and at the end of my five years I might have had a degree or some sort of qualification. I’m still planning on studying for a degree or learning a trade so that I keep my future options open should there be any changes that impact on my current job role.
It can be hard to socialise when you’re in that dark place with all the negativity generated by the criminal justice process. I isolated myself from many friends for about a year which really wasn’t a good move either mentally or emotionally. It also bought about anxiety when meeting new people which really didn’t help when I was seeking a new job.
The biggest challenge facing anybody with a conviction is employment and the advice I’d give anybody is:-
- Come to terms with your fall from grace. Whatever your job role was prior to sentencing you’ll need to accept that was then and this is now. It’s hard but the sooner you do it the easier it will be to find work.
- Many employers ask for five years of solid employment history and are cautious at taking anyone on who doesn’t have a good reason for not having this. The quicker you get into employment whether it be construction, warehouse work or driving, the quicker you begin to remove a barrier that will still be there once your conviction becomes spent. The money may not be great but challenge yourself – see how quickly you can move up that ladder. It could be the start of a great new career. Try and stay with the same company for as long as you can as this will look much better on your CV.
Well, that’s my story. It hasn’t been easy for me or my partner but I’ve fought hard and I’m now moving on with my life. Today, I’m still working for the same company, I love the industry I work in even though I would never previously have considered taking this career path (every cloud has a silver lining though).
I’ve started travelling abroad and I’m saving for a deposit for a house. In some strange way, I believe I am a better person and in a better place.
By Jack (name changed to protect identity)
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