A criminal record may necessitate a change to some of the plans we’ve made for the future but as Lachlan discovered, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I don’t think I’m a bad person but I’ve definitely made some bad choices. Unfortunately, it was one of these that led to a conviction for assault and a 12 month suspended prison sentence. I acted without thinking and will always regret what I did but I can’t change that now.

At the time of my conviction I’d just finished my A levels and was considering what I wanted to do next – gap year, university, work? However, it quickly became apparent that thanks to my conviction I had far less choice than I’d had before.

Travelling to Australia (which had been top of my gap year destinations) wasn’t possible as I’d received a 12 month sentence, even though I’d never stepped foot inside a prison. I assumed that other countries would be the same, although I know now that probably wasn’t the case.

I’d wanted to study for a social work degree and already knew that due to the work placements the university would do an enhanced DBS check. I did loads of research online about the impact of my conviction and although I couldn’t find a definitive answer, I got the impression that most universities would reject my application.

My world had been turned upside down. One minute so much choice and the next – no choice and seemingly no future. I lost interest in the things I’d once enjoyed, had less energy, lost my appetite and just felt generally worthless.

Getting a job looked like the only thing I could do and so I started to job hunt online. I couldn’t believe how many companies asked about unspent convictions and the thought of having to disclose mine to a stranger filled me with dread; I just couldn’t do it. And so another door slammed shut in my face.

Worried family and friends convinced me to go and see my GP who prescribed me anti-depressants. I didn’t want to turn to chemicals to make me feel better and so I started to ‘self-care’ – yoga, walking and the occasional exercise class. As time passed I found I was having more good days than bad and on one of the good ones it suddenly struck me, my conviction would impact on my life but how much was up to me.

A criminal record and no work experience wasn’t going to land me the best job and so it felt that university might be the way forward. With all thought of social work gone, I discovered courses I’d never have considered before and eventually plumped for a degree in digital forensics and cyber security.

As I had been convicted of a violent offence and my conviction was unspent, I had to disclose it to the university. Even though disclosure was necessary, that didn’t make it any easier and there were several times as I wrote my disclosure letter that I almost threw in the towel. I started to worry about what people would think of me, would they gossip about my conviction, would I be ostracised, would I be ‘watched’ just in case I broke the law again? However mad these thoughts might sound, they were so real to me at the time.

In the end I wrote two disclosure letters; one quite brief and another which gave a lot more background around the circumstances leading up to the conviction. I emailed the university the brief version taking the view that I could use the longer one when I attended the panel hearing. Writing the disclosure statement proved to be quite a cathartic experience, it freed me from the burden of having to hide a part of myself and freed me from the shame I felt about my criminal record.

On the day of the panel hearing, I was nervous but felt as prepared as I could be. The panel asked me a few questions verifying what I’d put in my original disclosure but didn’t ask anything more. I was asked to step out of the room and 10 minutes or so later I was called back in and my place on the course was confirmed.

By Lachlan (name changed to protect identity)

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