Having met a member of the Unlock team during a Disclosure Workshop in prison, Reece was delighted to be able to continue this association when he secured a voluntary role as a helpline advisor.

 

It was early 2018 and I was nearing the end of my prison sentence when I was invited to attend a ‘Disclosure Workshop’ run by an organisation called Unlock. I’d never come across them before but the event looked as though it was going to cover more than just writing a disclosure statement (which indeed it did).

The first thing the speaker did was to tell us a bit about Unlock. I was surprised to hear that they were based in Kent, not too far from where I was going to be returning home to. It was weird but I almost immediately started to feel a natural affinity with this organisation – I guess when everything in prison is so strange then anything that’s familiar (in whatever way) feels good.

The Workshop was really good. It covered things I’d not come across before and dispelled some of the things you hear all the time in prison. There was plenty of time at the end to ask questions and it was obvious that the trainer knew her stuff and wasn’t thrown by any of the queries put to her. At the end of the event, I went to say thanks and mentioned that I’d be leaving prison in a couple of months and would be returning to Kent.

She asked me where in Kent I’d be living and whether I’d got a job to go to. I explained that I had no job but finding work was one of my main priorities as I couldn’t stand having no purpose to my day. She casually mentioned that Unlock took on volunteers to work as helpline advisors in their office and to get in touch when I was back home if it was something I’d be interested in.

Release day eventually arrived and I was off back to Kent – excited to be out but worried what the future might hold. I spent the first couple of weeks turning up for appointments with probation and the job centre and the more people I spoke to the more depressing the picture became:

People with convictions, especially those that have been to prison, find it virtually impossible to get jobs.

I’d realised that it was going to be harder than before my conviction, but ‘impossible’ surely not?

I went to sign on at a couple of agencies, all of whom told me that with my skills and experience, they’d have no trouble finding me work. That was until I told them that I’d just been released from prison having served just over a year of my 2.5 year sentence. After that I heard nothing.

Knowing that I had to do something to keep myself occupied, I contacted Unlock asking whether they still had any voluntary vacancies and explaining how I’d come to know about them. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to hear back from them, I doubted they even remembered me. How wrong could I be? Within a couple of hours I’d received an email back from Debbie, Unlock’s Advice Manager (and also the trainer I’d met in prison) who invited me to the Unlock office for an interview. The rest as they say is history.

I was offered a voluntary role as a helpline advisor and committed myself to two days a week. The training was intensive but from the outset, the support I got from the whole team was amazing; all of them were happy to help and share information with me.

I quickly realised that there are a lot of people out there who need the support of an organisation like Unlock. Funnily enough, not all of them had recent convictions, a lot were still having to deal with the consequences of a conviction they’d received 10 or 20 years ago! This sometimes made the job tough – listening to issues they were raising and trying not to compare their situation to my own.

On days when I was feeling a bit down, there was always somebody in the office to talk things through with and I realised that support is available, you just have to reach out for it.

My confidence and self-esteem improved hugely whilst I was at Unlock and this meant that I signed up for everything that was offered to me by the Job Centre; things I’d never considered before. My previous life had been spent working in an office but my new one is working in construction. I love seeing the results of my hard work and through the on-the-job training, I’ve gained a lot of new skills.

However, the beauty of this job is that nobody seems to care that I’ve got a criminal record. There’s a big labour shortage in the construction industry and all the site manager wants to know is that you’ve got the appropriate ‘cards’ to allow you to work on site and that you’ll pull your weight whilst you’re there. I’m earning a decent income and the physically demanding aspects of the job stop me from thinking about what could have been.

Thanks Unlock you’re an organisation that really does help people with convictions.

By Reece (name changed to protect identity)

 

A comment from Unlock

Volunteers are crucial to our helpline and come to us with a passion for Unlock and it’s mission. They give many hours of their time and provide an extraordinary service to our clients. However, volunteering is a two-way street and like Reece, many will benefit from the work they do whilst they’re with us.

If you’d be interested in volunteering for Unlock, take a look at the volunteer page on our main website.

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