In 2015 I was sentenced to 16 months in prison for fraud against my employer.
I was 33 years old when I was convicted and the offence was completely out of character. Up until that point, I’d had a completely clean criminal record and had never had any dealings with the police or the courts.
Since my release I’ve worked really hard to rebuild my life which certainly hasn’t been easy. This began with applying for a really great job as a property supervisor with a company who let luxury holiday cottages. The interview went really well and I wasn’t asked any questions about my criminal record so I took the conscious decision not to disclose. After 3 months, the company told me that they were really pleased with my performance and offered me a promotion to senior property supervisor. I was delighted! Finally, I was back on my feet and felt like I had a purpose and value again.
However, my sense of elation didn’t last long. A short while after my promotion, an individual from my past took it upon herself to contact my employer and tell them about my criminal record. I was immediately suspended ‘pending an investigation’ and after a really unpleasant hearing in which I was essentially grilled about my background, my employment was terminated with immediate effect.
I was absolutely devastated but I wasn’t going to allow this to deter me from my commitment to rebuilding my life.
I applied for another job as a hotel receptionist and again, to my delight, I was successful. I’d practised how I was going to disclose my convictions and how I would explain that I posed no risk to the hotel or its guests. However, when the employer didn’t ask the question, I didn’t disclose.
I’d been working at the hotel for about a month when my previous employer contacted the hotel to tell them about my criminal record. Yet again, I was hauled in front of management and asked to divulge in full detail the circumstances that led to my conviction and details of the sentence I received. As you can imagine, it’s traumatic having to keep going back to that difficult time in my life.
Yet again, the hotel decided to terminate my employment based on my past.
I’m now unemployed and, on top of my criminal record, I now have two employment terminations to my name. This is incredibly detrimental to my ability to obtain work to support myself. Had either of these employers asked about my conviction, I would happily have told them but I find it really difficult to broach the subject myself. It just takes me back to a really hard time in my life and a time that I’d sooner forget about.
It seems a little unfair that although neither of the above businesses asked about my criminal record, my non-disclosure was held against me. I’d been able to demonstrate that I was a skilled and competent employee yet neither employer could see beyond my criminal record nor the fact that they thought I’d acted dishonestly.
It’s obvious to me that I must always volunteer the information regarding my criminal conviction from the outset (whether I’m asked about it or not). I just hope that there’s an employer out there that can look beyond this one event and give me a chance.
When so many people treat ex-offenders like this, is it any wonder that some will re-offend and return to prison as they struggle to find ways to support themselves?
Fortunately for me, I have a very supportive network of family and friends who pick me up every time I get knocked down; I also refuse to allow the small mindedness and spitefulness of people hold me back from rebuilding my life. Yes I made some wrong choices in the past but I just want to put that behind me and move on.
By Rachel (name changed to protect identity)
A note from Unlock: Rachel’s experience shows how, sometimes, there are exceptions to the golden rule of “you only have to disclose if you’re asked”. Generally, we don’t advise that people voluntarily disclose, but if you think that the employer will find out and change their mind, it might be better to be up-front and disclose, even if they haven’t asked you to.