Recently I applied for a volunteering role with Unlock.
I filled in my application form, had an interview and was invited along to do a couple of ‘taster days’. The purpose of these are for Unlock to understand your skills but, more importantly, for you to decide whether the role is right for you.
I turned up at the office on my first day and can honestly say that it was a real eye opener for me. Meeting the other volunteers and staff and hearing some of the calls that were coming into the office made me appreciate the depth of knowledge that I would need. Navigating around the websites and reading some of the case studies was quite daunting but I could wholeheartedly relate to each and every one of them. I guess that’s why the helpline is run by people with convictions.
I received my conviction in 2001 for a sexual offence and got a short two month custodial sentence. Upon release, I went to visit my probation officer and can vividly remember her telling me that:
You shouldn’t assume you’re a free man, you’ll just be serving the remainder of my sentence in the community
More importantly, I recall her telling me that my sentence “would never be spent” and that “I would always have to disclose it” to any employer in the future. I never thought to question her. Why would I? She was my probation officer – an expert.
As I sat in the Unlock office on that first day looking through the information site and reading about the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, I started to think that the information I’d been given by my probation officer all those years ago may not have been right. It looked as though my conviction might be spent after all. I realised that the only thing I could do would be to have a chat with one of the guys in the office. Sure enough, they confirmed my understanding. My conviction was indeed spent and I had no need to disclose it to most employers. In fact, I hadn’t needed to disclose it since 2008.
I left the office that night and this new information threw me right back to when my criminal justice journey started. It also made me realise that I hadn’t dealt with some of the issues regarding the process of coming back into a social life.
I didn’t realise that my conviction had been spent in 2008 and I felt let down that nobody back then had told me that I didn’t need to mention it on most application forms. I felt that I could have bettered myself and my life rather than ‘festered’ over the past 8 years. I can’t get that time back and it feels as though it’s been an extension of my original prison sentence.
I spent a long time that night chatting to my wife about my feelings and eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to concentrate on me. Unlock does a fantastic job and I believed their helpline deserved somebody fully focused on helping others – I didn’t feel that was me. I contacted Unlock’s advice manager and explained the situation. She was really understanding and gave me some great advice:
Spend some time getting your head around what’s happened but don’t let it blight your future. Concentrate on moving on. You won’t need to disclose your conviction for the majority of jobs and if an employer does a basic criminal record check, nothing will show up.
Well that’s exactly what I’ve done. Instead of dwelling on the ‘what might have been’, I’m looking to the future much more positively. Its a whole new experience for me ticking the ‘no’ box to the question about convictions on application forms and in many ways this has massively increased my confidence.
Unlock is an amazing charity, fighting for the rights of law abiding ex-offenders. I now know that I’m not alone in the problems that I’ve encountered and Unlock are addressing this issue by providing training to people that work with offenders – prison and probation officers included. It’s a shame that the training wasn’t around for my probation officer.
I appreciate everything that Unlock has done for me – the faith they had in me by initially offering me a voluntary role and then helping me to deal with the fall out after discovering that my conviction was spent. I’m pretty sure that as I no longer have to disclose my conviction, one of my job applications will soon be successful – I can’t wait. I’m still young and still have many years to make a success of my life.
By Isaac (name changed to protect identity)