Where do women have a place after being in the criminal justice system?
It’s been four and a half years since my alarm was set for 5am. I would awake at this time to be processed out of the prison at 5.45am and head out on R.O.T.L to my paid job at Max Spielmann. My journey to work consisted of a 2 mile walk down country lanes in bitterly cold weather, a 20 minute bus ride into Stafford followed by a train to Birmingham New Street for a quick change to another train headed to Bromsgrove for a final 2 mile walk from the train station to my place of work for 9am. The same process was repeated for my journey home at 5am after my working day was over. During my 6 months of paid employment as a prisoner I was responsible for paying my own travel to and from work and in each monthly pay packet 40% of my wages were deducted and put towards the victims of crime support fund. I’ve worked that out to be roughly £2,400 that I contributed to this throughout my paid employment.
My sentence was a 4 year sentence for a single offence that happened on a night out, in my teenage years. I do not excuse my actions in any way, shape or form however that has to be a line drawn for me to continue living my life after my punishment was over. My trial commenced at age 21, two years after my offence. For the two years prior to my trial I was on police bail, I served two years in prison and 2 years on probation. That’s a massive 6 years that a drunken act of violence took from my life.
Prior to my prison sentence I was in full time employment and I was a single mother. I was sentenced to a 4 year prison sentence with no pre sentence report because the judge in my case said ‘this has gone on too long, sentencing will be today’ as if it were my own fault I had been on bail for two years with no trial. Throughout my prison sentence I remained as an enhanced prisoner for the duration and didn’t receive a single verbal or written warning, I was a model prisoner, so to speak.
My determination and ambition was clearly visible for my employers Max Spielmann as upon my release in November 2013 they offered me a full time permanent position in a branch closest to where I live. I still work for the company today and my career with them has gone from strength to strength over the past 4 years. I passed my driving test and was promoted to branch manager within a few days of being a new driver. I hadn’t even been driving for a week and I was off to manage a new branch driving down the M5 to get to work. Life was really looking up for me.
My two years on probation went by with no further trouble or reoffending and in November 2015 I was free of probation and off any licence conditions that were imposed upon me. I was a retail manager with a new driving licence and I felt like I had finally made something of myself and all of my family were so proud of me.
Throughout my time at Max Spielmann I have met some amazing people, colleagues and customers alike. I have built up fantastic work relationships and I am always willing to go to extra mile to help my customers have a great experience in my shop. My all time favourite is when I take a passport photo and I hear the classic line ‘I look like a convict’ I always laugh and reply with ‘what do they look like’ they have no idea that I own a true mugshot on the prison data base! Most of my customers would never believe in a million years that I was once a prisoner.
You see, its very easy for anybody to fall foul of the law. In split second actions without thinking you can change so many lives for a very long time. Every human being alive makes mistakes, some more serious than others but we are all human and we all deserve a second change if we are willing to accept and work towards changing our lives for the better.
I have recently been thinking about moving away from my job in retail as I spend a lot of time on the road, I have worked almost every weekend for the past 4 years and I feel like I could and have the ability to achieve so much more that what my job role involves at present. I started applying for a few office based roles I saw advertised online via recruitment agencies just to see what was available. I understand with my conviction I may struggle to find employment working with children and vulnerable people so obviously I avoid those kind of roles, however my conviction in no way affects my ability or suitability to carry out the majority of jobs that I do apply for. I always carefully read the job spec and match their requirements to my own skills and knowledge.
A few weeks ago I was called by a recruitment agency who were putting me forward for an office based credit control position for a property management company local to me. Their only requirement was ‘a strong customer service background’ to which I definitely have. The rest, they said, could be trained on the job. I was offered an interview by the company on said day, an hour prior to my interview I was asked to attend the recruitment agencies office to register my details with them and show them my I.D. The interview day arrived and I was all set to sell myself and bag me a new job. I arrived promptly to the recruitment office and filled in their relevant forms to which I had to tick a box to say I had an unspent conviction. My conviction is not spend until 2022. I then left the recruitment office with no questions asked and headed to my interview with the property management company. I smashed the interview and the woman who interviewed me even asked me to stay behind to meet the team and meet the woman who’s job I would be taking over for an 11 month maternity cover contract.
The very next day I received a call from the recruitment agency with a verbal job offer from the company. Thankfully, I asked for a written contract before I officially handed in my notice to my current employer. This didn’t stop me from telling close friends and family I had been offered a new job and I even went out and spent £100 of new office attire clothing for my new role. Unfortunately for me, these clothes have so far only seen interviews because a few days after my verbal job offer I received a call from the recruitment agency again, just asking for me to go and fill in a final form with them, it was during this conversation 5 days after my interview that they lady mentioned my conviction disclosure on their registration form. She actually asked me if I filled it in wrong, oh how easy it would have been for me to lie. I didn’t lie, I was very upfront and honest about my past as I didn’t think it would in any way affect my new position, how wrong was I?
After a brief chat with the recruitment agency about my conviction she informed me that she would need to inform the company of this conviction but not to worry because it was along time ago and the role I applied for and was offered didn’t need an enhanced conviction disclosure. Needless to say at this point I was feeling very nervous and rightly so because the next day I received a phone call from the recruitment agency informing me that due to the disclosure of my conviction, an offence as a teenager 7 years ago, the company were retracting their verbal job offer. I was stunned. I contacted the woman who interviewed me and also the companies managing director in the hope of some clarification as to why they now felt I was unsuitable to work in their company. I still to this day, have not been given a verbal or written reason from the company as to why they retracted my job offer.
I launched a twitter campaign to highlight my situation and name the company in the hope of gaining some communication from them, all they did was call the recruitment company who then called me in an attempt to silence me and ask me to not post publically about my job offer being retracted! If I did continue to do so, the recruitment agency would not feel as though they could carry on helping me in my search for a new employer.
I am so appalled by this company and their total lack of communication, compassion and inability to give me a chance. You see, I can take rejection, I have applied for many jobs and not even been selected for an interview, I don’t launch an online campaign against these companies. Its just a bitter pill to swallow to be sure that I was the best person for the job and then based on my irrelevant conviction they snatch away my goals and ambitions without so much as an explanation.
My alarm is set for 5am again, not because I am in a hurry to be processed out of prison for my day release but because I am giving myself an hour before I have to get ready for work, to apply for jobs online. I am very hard working with absolute determination to make the very best life I can for me and my daughter. I have served my punishment in prison, I have paid a considerable amount of money to the victim support fund, I have proved with my current employer that I am capable and worthy of a good job so how am I still facing these challenges every single day? When is enough, enough?
Do women who have been in the criminal justice system not have a place in the career world? I was involved in a drunken incident on a night out as a teenager, does this mistake that I have already paid for drastically, still have to determine what I can do for the rest of my life?
I hope more women who face these challenges find their voice, find their reason and their sheer passion for change and make a stand against companies with such appalling recruitment policies.
Yes, I committed an offence, as a teenager. I have changed, its noted in my life since my release so please, look past what I have done and see the potential I have and the woman I can be. I am far from stupid. I am committed to making a career for myself and I wont stop until I have succeeded and hopefully in my journey I can inspire other people who have been through the justice system to speak out against the invisible barriers they face in their own search to live on the right side of the law, gaining paid work and paying their own way back into society.