It’s often felt that jobs within health or social care can be difficult to get into if you have a criminal record. However, as Melanie’s story shows, people with significant criminal records can successfully get into this type of work.
I’m sitting at Gatwick Airport with my son waiting for our flight to Spain to be called. We’ve both been working really hard so we’re looking forward to the break. It’s strange to think that the crazy journey I’ve been on started at Gatwick and will end there as well.
Back in 2005 when my son was 7 years old I was a single mother with an addiction to crack cocaine. I was struggling to survive and when I was given the opportunity to earn some serious cash I didn’t think twice and I agreed to smuggle a huge amount of drugs into the UK.
I wasn’t a criminal mastermind, just a crack addict, so unsurprisingly I was arrested at Gatwick Airport and before I knew it, I found myself in court and sentenced to 12 years in prison. During my time inside I recovered from a stroke (bought on by my drug taking), got myself clean and started to think about what life after prison would be like.
My son went to live with my mum and despite her being hugely disappointed in me, she bought him along to the prison most weekends so that we could maintain a close relationship.
In 2009 I moved to an open prison and started doing some voluntary work in a residential care home. As a result of my drug addiction I’d never held down a job before and I absolutely loved the routine it gave me. I volunteered for 5 days a week but would often do extra shifts when the home was short staffed.
Around the same time that I was eligible for paid work, a job came up at the care home where I volunteered and I applied, confident that I’d walk it. I was constantly praised for my work as a volunteer so why wouldn’t I get a full time paid job. Sadly, it seems employers are less tolerant about convictions when it comes to paid work than for volunteers. Although the manager of the home was happy to employ me, the Care Quality Commission were making it very difficult for her. She told me that she was willing to ‘fight my corner’ but I knew that as soon as I was released from prison I’d be moving to a different part of the country and so I took the decision to continue as a volunteer and save the ‘fight’ until I was released.
Since my release in 2011, I have gone on to work as a carer in a residential home, although it wasn’t easy to get a job. Many employers disregarded me as soon as I told them I’d got a criminal record and those that did invite me to an interview and gave me a chance to explain my conviction were less receptive when I mentioned that my offence was drug related.
Eventually I struck gold and found an employer that valued my skills and experience far more than worrying about my past. My reference from my previous care home manager was fantastic and my personal officer in prison had given me a character reference which highlighted how I’d worked with a prison drug charity and had been clean for 5 years.
I work full time and rent a house for me and my son. He’s grown into a wonderful young man and is an apprentice car mechanic. Getting paid to do a job I love is amazing. I’m able to regularly spoil my mum as a thank you for the years she’d spent looking after my son and he and I are now on our way to Spain on holiday.
It’s odd being back at Gatwick and what a difference. This time my case is full of PG Tips instead of crack cocaine – well you know how difficult it is to get a decent cup of tea abroad.
By Melanie (name changed to protect identity)
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