Having developed a new hobby of ‘upcycling furniture’ I’d wandered into my local charity shop having seen a fantastic pine chest of drawers in the window, ideal for customising for my spare bedroom.  Fantastic, lovely heavy piece of furniture, no damage, no woodworm – it’s mine.

As I handed over my £25 the gentleman who served me started chatting to me – ‘That’s a nice old bit of furniture, they don’t make stuff like that anymore.  Once it’s been sanded down to take all that old varnish off it will come up a treat’.

It was only as I was about to say goodbye that it suddenly dawned on me that I’d parked my car at my office, a fifteen minute walk away and there were double yellow lines outside the shop, stretching for about a mile.  I explained the situation to the sales assistant who told me that the charity shop had a car park at the back of the shop and I could bring my car around and park it in there.  Alternatively, parking restrictions outside the shop were lifted after 5.30pm and so I could come back then.  I told him that I had to get back to the office to see a client but I’d be back at around 5.30ish.  He told me that although he usually finished at 5pm, he’d wait around and give me a hand carrying the chest out to my car.

As promised, back I went that evening.  As he carried the chest to the car and I attempted to clear the boot to accommodate my new bit of furniture we got chatting.  I told him that I’d opened my own ‘letting agency’ about a year ago and that the business had really started to take off over the last 6 months.  I asked him about his work at the charity shop.  He seemed so much younger than all the other people working in there and was the only male.  I must say, I was intrigued by this young man (who I later found out was called Nigel).

He told me that he’d been volunteering in the charity shop for about 15 months, originally it was because he had to and now because he wanted to.  He’d received a conviction for ‘fraud’ and been given a prison sentence but just before release, he was able to go out on a ‘temporary licence’ and volunteer in the charity shop.  He’d volunteered for the last 6 months of his sentence and when he was released, he’d continued to volunteer.  He told me that ‘his ladies’ in the shop really looked after him and as he didn’t have a job and had few prospects, there was nothing stopping him continuing to volunteer.

‘Where you working before your conviction?’ I asked.  ‘Oh yes’ he said ‘Would you believe it, I was a Business Manager for a large corporate organisation.  I earned good money, had a wife and child, lovely house and drove a nice car and I was a stupid ******.  I had a new secretary at work, she was young, pretty and made me feel important.  At the time my wife had just had the baby and I really seemed to have dropped down the pecking order.  I couldn’t believe this young girl was interested in me and I became totally infatuated.  I wanted to impress her, buy her nice things and take her to nice places.  To fund this, I started to ‘borrow’ money from my employers. 

The inevitable happened – my wife found out and left me.  I took time off work with depression and then the company’s auditors found out about the money.  I was sacked and ultimately charged with fraud.  What a mess, still it could be worse.  Although my wife and I are divorced now, she has started to let me see my son.  All I want now is to get back into work so that I can help support my child and hopefully rent a flat so that he can come and stay with me at weekends – I’m staying with mates at the moment so he can’t do that.

Wow.  I’ve got to say I was truly shocked.  I’d never met a ‘proper criminal’ before although I’d read plenty of newspaper stories about ‘convicts’.  I’d always wondered what gave these people the right to just take what didn’t belong to them when I had to work so hard for everything I had.  I’d read about people in prison having TV’s and Play stations and it certainly didn’t sound to me like they were being punished.

Nigel was a real person though – stupid he may have been but I remember when I gave birth to my daughter.  If I’m honest, for a while she did become the focus of my whole world – perhaps my husband had felt neglected to.  Did a TV and a Playstation make up for being separated from your child – definitely not.  He’d been punished, why couldn’t he just start again.  His wife seemed to have forgiven him, couldn’t society do the same.  This guy’s talent was being wasted, I’m sure he’d be an asset to somebody.

Lightbulb moment!!!!!!  He’d be an asset to me.  I’d been looking for ages for somebody to help with the administration of my business.  I’d placed an advert with the job centre but to be honest the people they sent really didn’t seem that interested in working.  I’d put an advert in my local supermarket but hadn’t had one response.  Would it be too much of a risk taking on a ‘fraudster’.  What if he did the same to my business?  How could I protect myself?  What would the other staff say?  My head was spinning.  ‘I’m looking for an administrator’ I said ‘Would you be interested in coming along for an interview next week?’ 

The interview went well.  Nigel was skilled, knowledgeable and totally motivated.  He already had some ideas for better utilisation of the systems we had in place.  I wanted to offer him a job but when I spoke to friends and family they all told me to avoid him like the plague.  ‘The business is too new, you just can’t afford to take the risk’ my husband told me.  But I knew I wanted to give this guy a second chance and all I needed was somebody to tell me that I was doing the right thing.

I came across Unlock doing a Google search and decided to give them a ring.  I knew they helped people with convictions but would they be able to help me.  ‘They’ll just tell you to employ the bloke’ my husband said ‘You can tell they’ll be on his side’.  I explained my dilemma to the Unlock Helpline.  They talked through the job and Nigel’s convictions.  As my husband said, they were all for me giving Nigel a second chance but they also helped me to more practically assess any risks so that by the end of the conversation I knew that I’d be offering Nigel a job but I also knew that I’d done everything that I could to protect my business.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Nigel’s been with me a while now and has transformed the organisational side of the business.  In lots of ways the relationship I have with him is very different from the one I have with my other staff.  Nigel is ‘an open book’; I know everything about him and trust him implicitly.  I think he truly has my company’s best interests at heart and has made my family and friends eat their words.

I know it’s easy to be judgmental and hard to take a risk but sometimes it’s worthwhile looking a little deeper and giving somebody a second chance.

By Lisa* (name changed to protect identity)

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