Having grown up with an alcoholic and abusive father, I struggled to behave like a normal teenager. On reflection, I now appreciate how angry I was that nobody was trying to help me out of the dreadful situation I was in and my unwillingness to be ‘normal’ was undoubtedly my way of rebelling.
I dropped out of school because nobody there understood me and this just added to my sense of anger with the world and life in general.
At the age of 17 I’d found myself a boyfriend and things were starting to look up. But, during the course of a heated argument, this lad pushed me. The red mist descended and in that moment of rage, I knew that I wasn’t going to let any other man hurt or take advantage of me. I picked up a knife and stabbed him. He survived and I received a three year probation order.
At about the same time, my father went to court and received a conviction for the abuse he’d subjected me to. He was sent to prison. This stirred up a lot of emotion in me not least more anger – I couldn’t understand why he’d been let off so lightly, when he’d left me with a life sentence.
Following his conviction I received a large amount of compensation and I turned to drugs to help me deal with the situation. I wasn’t ready to accept any help from probation or the counsellors that they put me in touch with. It followed that I would be caught and I was eventually charged with possession and the supply of controlled substances (cannabis and sleeping pills). This time I received a two year probation order that ran concurrent with my earlier conviction.
I’m now approaching my 42nd birthday. It took me some time to stop being angry at life but, over the years I returned to school, gained 5 GCSE’s and started to study with the Open University. I also found full time work and eventually a job that paid for me to complete my degree on a day release basis. I’d always loved science and this is the field that I concentrated my study on. I completed my degree, worked my way up the organisation and was doing pretty well for myself.
Although I enjoyed what I was doing, the idea of teaching and making a difference to the lives of young people kept crossing my mind. I really wanted to share my love of science and hopefully inspire other young people to love it too. I started to seriously look into the possibility of becoming a teacher and approached a local university to ask them what my chances were of being accepted on to a PGCE course. They were totally honest and told me that;
although they would accept me, I should expect a mixed response from schools when looking to find a work placement.
I was really nervous about leaving a perfectly good career but I knew I had to give working with kids a try. I decided not to go down the PGCE route, but took a job in a school as a laboratory technician. Whilst working there, I spoke to my colleagues and the head teacher about my dreams of teaching and after a year, I applied for a government teaching placement (now called School Direct), fully supported by the school I was working in.
Since then I’ve worked in several schools. Some heads have been amazing, they’ve listened to my story and understood that my past allows me to empathise with more difficult pupils. Other’s have shut the door in my face as soon as I’ve explained the circumstances. The head teacher at my training school gave me some excellent advice about filling in application forms. He suggested that it was better to state on the form ‘2 x convictions which I would like to discuss further at interview’. He told me that this would enable me to get through the door and prove myself before I was judged.
I’ve also found some recruitment agencies really useful. I applied for my current job through one. They asked me to write a statement detailing the offences and explaining my circumstances at the time. They spoke to the school first, which saved me the stress and embarrassment of talking about it at interview
I now work in a very challenging school with lots of pupils who remind me of my former ‘angry self’. I can honestly say that I absolutely love my job and really glad that I made the move.
I really wanted to tell my story because I thought it was important to encourage others. Having a criminal record doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams. You just need to have some patience and perseverance.
By Juliet (name changed to protect identity)