I’m 68 years of age and happily married, I’m well educated and achieved academic success. Oh, just one more thing, in March 2012 I was given a four year prison sentence for ‘attempted fraud’.
It’s hard to explain what prison is like – I was surprised to discover the amount of warmth and support amongst prisoners – nothing like how women’s fictional prisons are shown on the TV. Every day is pretty much the same (ground hog day I think they call it) and coping with a prison sentence is all about surviving. As somebody who loves to be busy, the lack of things to do and the boredom was the worst part of prison life. I’d learnt to knit at the age of 10 and so, to maintain my sanity, I knitted and knitted all the time in prison. I even volunteered to knit for the ‘prison shop’ – hats, scarves and gloves.
The day of my release eventually arrived and I left prison with no savings and totally reliant on my husband to support me. When I was sentenced, I was surprised to learn that my state pension was going to be suspended. My husband and I relied on our joint pension to pay our bills etc. and just because I’d gone to prison, those bills didn’t get reduced. As a retired prisoner, I could have chosen not to work in prison and rely on private ‘spends’ from my husband but clearly, this would have put him under even more financial pressure – something I just couldn’t do.
Prior to going to prison, I was well known for my ‘good works’ and was a regular at my local church. It seemed to me that because of that I was fair game for the local press who had a field day berating me. This led to a lot of my work at the church being curtailed.
I’d been told stories in prison and later read on the internet about the difficulties in finding work with a criminal record and the challenges that this presented was really daunting.
I was also too afraid to apply for voluntary work as I couldn’t bear the thought of being rejected. I was struggling to know what I was going to do in the future and whether I’d be financially secure.
So, it was back to the knitting. I started off selling items in mother and toddler groups and this progressed to village halls and market stalls. I’d give items to friends who’d sell them in their workplace and before long I’d turned my hobby into a profit.
The busier I got, the more professional I had to be. I checked if there were any regulations around working from home and made sure that I had the necessary insurances etc. I also kept records of all my income and expenditure. I feel really fortunate that I’ve got a hobby that I’ve been able to utilise which allows me to become self-employed. I don’t have to worry about applying for work or face the humiliation of disclosing my conviction and having an employer judge me.
Wherever I sold my wares, I’d hear the same comments over and over again:
Oh these are beautiful, I wish I could knit
Kerching! Could this be another potential business idea? Maybe I could teach other people to knit. I’d taught a few of the girls in prison but, at the end of the day, they didn’t really have anything else to do. Would people ‘on the out’ pay for lessons?
I was lucky enough to have a large room at home (our dining room). If I could use this, then there’d be very little outlay involved, other than some marketing literature. I didn’t think I had anything to loose and so my business was born.
I now teach small groups to knit, for which I charge a tuition fee. I also have monthly knitting groups where I provide free tuition in exchange for which I sell the items that are made at local markets.
Concentrating more on teaching has meant that I’ve had less time to knit myself and the demand for hand knitted items has outstripped supply. Within the last month, I’ve had to advertise for ‘professional’ knitters to increase stock. Ten people applied to me with samples of their work and I’ve been able to offer them all some work. I supply them with the yarn and patterns and pay them a percentage of what the item sells for. Two of my ‘knitters’ have criminal records and served time in prison which has given me an added sense of satisfaction.
I love being my own boss and, as my small business grows I’ve been able to provide opportunities for others. So if you’ve got a hobby and are considering a change of career direction or, just looking to earn a bit of extra money, it might be worth thinking about how you can use your hobby to your advantage.
By Pauline (name changed to protect identity)