Rehabilitation

‘The process of returning to a healthy or good way of life, or the process of helping someone to do this after they have been in prison’

 

While reflecting on the distance I have come in the past few months, with the help and support of so many people, who don’t even know me, who don’t have to help me and who most certainly do not get paid to help me, I have been thinking about the people who actually get paid, and work to rehabilitate people leaving prison. I was in prison for two years, I saw many people enter and exit the prison system, countless women leaving for only a few weeks before they came back.

I was very lucky, I left prison with a full time job and a home. This was not due to anybody helping me find accommodation or employment. I did it myself. After the whole appalling situation that occurred before I was granted my home leaves and release on temporary licence, when this finally happened for me, I was able to find myself a paid job which enabled me to save money and look for a house to rent while I was on home leaves. Thankfully, I managed to find somewhere for the day I was released.

With regard to my paid job, it was a fellow prisoner that told me about the company coming in to interview prisoners, I wasn’t asked by staff or even informed about it by staff, I had to approach them myself and pester them to let me attend the interview. Again, I was lucky and I got the 16 week trial period and 16 weeks of paid work. When my 16 weeks were over, I contacted another area manager from the company and asked if I could do another 16 weeks on a different area and hopefully work on that area upon my release which at that point wasn’t too far away. After meeting with this manager, she contacted the prison and asked if I could be released to work on a different area and I would be given a job as soon as I was released. This was agreed and I worked for the company for 4 and a half years.

I shared a cell for 6 months, with a girl who’s tag date came and went, she was assured she would be released on this date. She has no where to live. She was released 4 weeks after her tag date because it took a month, for the prison to find her accommodation. After she had been in prison for a year and half already.

I was told by the governor of my prison, a year in to my sentence, as well as my probation officer, that I would not be able to return to my home town when I was released. The town I had lived in my whole life, where my whole family lived, my daughter went to school and anyone who would be supporting me upon my release lived. To this day I still don’t understand why on earth they said this to me, I was on bail in my home town for over two years, with no restriction on where I could go. I of course had a bail condition to have no direct or indirect contact with my victim, which I adhered to for the two and a half years. After contacting a solicitor and writing yet another letter of complaint about this to my probation officer, this decision again, was changed.

Prior to my offence, the victim of my crime was a stranger to me. I lived in the same town as them and saw them on numerous occasions while I was on bail. I was born in this town, prior to prison, I worked in this town, every single member of my family live here. How on earth could anyone think that the right thing to do upon my release, after spending two years in prison, would be to make me relocate to a place I had no connection to, no family support and no familiarity with!?

I had spent two years in prison, away from my child. I needed to go home, to my family. I had already shown while on bail, that I was more than capable of staying away from my victim. I still do not understand what the hell these people were thinking, telling me I couldn’t go home after my sentence. How disastrous would it have been to send me somewhere other than where my whole support network were?

Again, thanks to my complete unwillingness to agree with these people and after sourcing advice and complaining yet again, I was able to be released back to my home town, with a restriction zone for my two year licence period. This was ridiculous but at least I was allowed home. I was unable to use the train station (the only one, and I didn’t drive and needed to use this to get to work) I was also unable to go to the local supermarket. Yet, I was allowed to use all of these places while I was on police bail for over two years.

The scary thing is, had probation and the prison tried to stop another girl (I was a girl, 21) from going home, she may not have been as assertive as me and may have just accepted it, because its what was being told to her.

After having such an awful relationship with my probation officer for the whole of my sentence, in one letter of complaint I sent to the probation manager, I stated that I did not trust this woman with my rehabilitation and I did not trust her support up on my release, I asked for another probation officer and I was told, there was not another probation office available for me. This woman told me I couldn’t go home, she increased my risk for no reason and without informing me or the prison and she called my mum and told her she had approved my home leave knowing damn well the prison would not let me out due to her increasing me risk, forced me to do courses which were of no use to me and raised serious concerns about me, that were all fictional.  I was supposed to trust this woman to support me upon my release!? How scary.

During my two years on licence we actually got on ok, I was ok because she didn’t ever recall me! My appointments never lasted more than 5 minutes and there were three or four times I would turn up for appointments and she wasn’t there. We had booked these appointments and no body ever called me to tell me she wouldn’t be there. I didn’t ever see another person standing in for her, I was just told ‘she’s not here’. I made sure that the reception staff documented that I had turned up and I signed their diary in fear of being recalled for not attending. Had it have been me not turning up for appointments I would have been heading straight back to prison.

So, after a long consideration to the actual meaning and definition or rehabilitation, it is safe to say that prison and probation offered me absolutely nada, nothing, no rehabilitation at all. Thankfully, I am full of motivation and an utter determination to rehabilitate myself. Its safe to say, not all prisoners are the same as me. I dread to think what prison and probation are trying to do with them, to rehabilitate them. All they did for me, was try and hold me back, prevent me for any kind of restored life. Had I have listened to the prison and probation I would have been released to a completely different area, living god knows where, with no job!

Thanks to myself, I was released to my home town, with a house, a full time job and I was never recalled and I have never re-offended! Now, I am off to university, ultimately to work towards a massive change to the shambles I had to witness, live through and fight against!

Here’s to all the money spent on ‘rehabilitation’….

“I am no longer worthy”

Below is the email I sent to a woman who interviewed me for a job, offered me the job and then retracted by job offer, after late discloser of my conviction on the recruiters part. This email was sent on the 19th April 2017 and has been ignored by not only the woman who interviewed me but by the whole company and recruitment agency. So, not only do they feel I am unworthy of an advertised job role, I am also unworthy of a reply to my email. Is this rehabilitation for ex offenders? Is this a fair chance at employment? Is this right? This lady was made aware of my conviction at 8am and my job offer was retracted at 10.30am, with no contact at all with me, while considering my offence/conviction.

Hi Louise,

 I hope you are well. This morning I received a very disappointing phone call from Alice at Hewett, advising me that the job offer verbally proposed to me on Thursday 13th April has now been retracted due to my disclosed conviction.

 After a very successful interview and subsequent verbal job offer, I would just like some clarification on why the offer no longer stands, based on a conviction that was for a single offence in 2009, with no other offences in the last 8 years and me having solid employment for the past four years.

 I was the best candidate for the job role, hence the quick offer. My single offence in no way affects my ability or suitability for the role I applied for and the role I was offered, prior to my conviction disclosure.

 I wasn’t asked about any convictions during the interview however I did disclose them on the appropriate application form.

 I am very sorry that based on a single mistake that happened 7 years ago, you feel I am unfit for a role in the Mainstay group, however I would urge you to consider a more lenient approach in the future when it comes to the employment of ex offenders, as we all make mistakes and still have to move on, work and live a life. I have showed a strong willingness and determination to change my life and make the best out of a bad and unfortunate  situation.  1 in 4 people in the U.K have a criminal conviction on record. A more thorough approach maybe sought while considering people like myself for a role in Mainstay because as previously stated, an incident that happened when I was 19 in no way affects my ability to carry out the requirements stated in the proposed role.

 It’s a shame that Mainstay have retracted my job offer, however I look forward to hearing from you with your reasons why this has happened and why you now feel that I am no longer worthy or suitable for the role I was suitable for yesterday.

 Many thanks for your time.

 Michaela Booth

Against All Odds

Dedicated to my mum, my world, my protector, my worst critic, my best friend and the definition of strength.

 

My family offered me patience, they showed me true loyalty, their forgiveness, hope and motivation were the reasons I was able to endure such adverse circumstances throughout my investigation, trial, prison sentence and on to my rehabilitation. I am sure, these traits shown by my family, are also offered by thousands of families supporting their loved ones world wide, on their terrible, trying and often unbearable journey through our criminal justice and prison systems.

My sisters, my mother, father and distant family all pulled together at such a traumatic time for me and my young daughter, to make my time inside as pain free as they possibly could. Money sent to me, by all, weekly. Letters sent daily, stamps, phone calls, emails, that took a considerable amount of their time up, still came through. They say I still owe them thousands! I actually do. Other than owing them thousands, I owe them my life, I owe them success and I owe them gratitude. I don’t need to write a blog, for them to read, for them to know how much I appreciate every single thing they did to help me, support me, and love me against all odds. Even when I didn’t want to be loved. Even when I wanted to give up, they never let me. I am a fighter, my family took over when I needed a rest.

My mum, one tough woman. I love her beyond words. To say she is my rock would be the biggest understatement I have ever made. This woman is the ultimate, tough love lady. She has three daughters, successful, independent and warriors. Thanks to her. If ever I have messed up, at anything and I feel like I need a hug or comfort, I go to my mum. Not because I will get a hug, because this woman will tell me, I messed up, big time, she will tell me to remember this, learn from this and be a big girl and find a way to move on, without help, because if I got myself in a mess, I am sure as hell capable of getting myself out of it. Obviously not my time in prison, because I couldn’t get myself out, and she would not have assisted with my escape! Actually, had I of suggested it, she probably would have! Situations where my mum had foreseen a bad outcome, she wont say so, she will let it play out and let me make my own mistakes. She will then enable me to correct them myself. Never have I heard my mum say ‘I told you so’.

The glue that holds my family together. My mum didn’t come to court with me the day I got sent to prison for two years. My first phone call to her, is a cold memory that sends chills through my body just recalling it. I had cried for an hour on my own before I went to the phone. To get it all out of the way and not let her hear my pain. I called, she answered…

Alright mum“.

Michaela, are you ok, did you get the stuff we sent in for you, we are coming to see you in a few days”.

“Yes, I got it, thanks. Mum, this isn’t weeks, months, I have got two years”.

My eyes are welling up now just as I type this, my mum paused, I think to compose herself, her reply was something I never expected.

At least no-one has died. Don’t worry about anything”

When she said this, she was chocking up, she didn’t know what to say, I could tell she was crying. When I asked her if she was crying, she just cried, I told her I would call her back and hung up the phone.

Too hear this woman crying, because of what was happening to her family, hurt me to the core. I didn’t want her to hear me cry and I didn’t want to hear her cry. Thankfully, that was the first and last time throughout my prison sentence that I heard her cry. She, of course, endured my frustration, screams and tears for the next two years. She still gets it now. That’s what mums are for!

Her dedication to her daughter and taking on the responsibility of my daughter for the next two years, just shows what a strong woman she is. Every single weekend in two years she came to see me. I was miles away from home. She even cancelled Christmas! I think my daughter was the only one who got presents! She said, How could she celebrate, knowing that one of her daughter was suffering so badly. She was always made up, dressed nice, smiling. I could tell, for the time I was in prison, she was broken.

My family witnessed all of the trials and tribulations I faced when I was on bail for two years, in prison for two years and then on license for two years. They still see the constant barriers I now face as a young women, with a serious criminal conviction, trying to succeed in my own life, as well as raise awareness of the challenges all ex offenders face during their rehabilitation. As well as highlight serious issues that I have witnessed, causing a detrimental effect to the rehabilitation and ultimately, the release of prisoners.

By no means am I of the opinion that all prisoners families are not supportive, because I know, from my own experience, with my own family, and from seeing such devoted support, drive, determination and restlessness from so many families on visits every weekend for the two years I was in prison. I have seen this and I know it is the case for the majority of serving prisoners and their families. However, I have also, witnessed and watched the disastrous affects, when this does not happen. Yes, I know it is a minority but to let this concern and serious issue go over my head, because in most cases it doesn’t happen, I would not be being true to myself. To know of things that are happening that are so counterproductive to rehabilitation and for me not to address it, is out of the question.

I have always and I will, always, question anything I feel causes damage, to something I feel so passionately about. I did this in prison, I did this on probation and I still do it now. I have seen women in prison, serving sentences for assisting their then partners, in prison to commit crime inside. This is a concern, as it can and does put vulnerable prisoners at risk. It risks rehabilitation and releases. It also sometimes ends with another conviction and another person in prison.

My thoughts, concern and experience of women who assist with this (my experience is mainly of women as I was in a female prison) does not mean I think that all women who support their partners or all families who support their loved ones in prison are involved in this, but to say it doesn’t happen, is a lie.

For me and many other women and men serving a prison sentence, family support is the only thing that got us and gets us through, I am not undermining the importance of family contact and support, I am simply raising a concern of when this ‘support’ is counterproductive to rehabilitation and release and that also ends with drastic consequences.

I was a serving prisoner, my family were at one point, for two years, supporting a prisoner. They are now still, supporting a young woman with a criminal conviction. Their support for me, will never leave. They were my light in the dark, they were my voice when I couldn’t speak, my backbone when I couldn’t stand, my army when I was on R&R. They have shown me the definition of unconditional love. I would not be the woman I am today, had it not been for the family I have, the fight they gave, the commitment, strength, struggle and determination to see me through.

Hearing my mum cry, seeing the frustration on my sister’s faces when they were holding down full time jobs, harassing solicitors, probation, the prison, as well as maintaining contact with me, is something I will never forget. I know how hard it was, they told me, showed me and I saw it.

Their struggle on the outside, was worse than mine on the inside. I had nothing to do but write, read and moan about prison! They had my daughter, jobs, a life. They never gave up, they were never too busy to write, to answer my calls, to do things I asked them to do, to visit, send me clothes, stamps, they did everything for me that I was unable to do for myself. They didn’t have too, they did it because they are my family and they love me, and to think of me struggling was something that they would have never let happen.

My family, like many others prisoners family’s, are the sole reason, prisoners wake up and battle on with another day, the reason we smile and laugh, the reason we do things we don’t want to, in prison, to help us get out. For our family, who just want us home. I cried my self to sleep many nights, thinking about my daughter, who probably thought my mum, was her own mum for a period of time. Against all odds, prisoners battle on with their sentence, for their family, and prisoners families battle on with their fight and sentence, for their loved one. To get them home, safe, sound and ready for a life on the outside.

Prisoners wives

Recent events have really got me exploring the loyalty, or lack of, that women show to their partners in prison.

Is it love or is it loneliness? Do they want stability, or status?

I was in prison with a woman whos husband was disabled, after a motorbike accident, he was sentenced to life for a murder in Merseyside. She was also in prison. They had left behind three children. This situation and circumstances around this case were very sad, appeals were in place and contact for the couple was very restricted. This woman, regardless of my own opinion, showed the definition of loyalty to her husband. It really was ‘Till’ death do us part’. For him, she was light, she was strength, with tears in her eyes she would smile and talk about the love she had for this man. Every single day she would write letters, read letters and make applications for phone calls and visits. I have never seen love like it. She has received a 5yr sentence for disposing of the weapon. For her, it was undoubtably an action that changed her life for ever and that of her childrens . Did she regret it? I don’t think so. It was, an action, from a wife for her husband. For his protection!?
Here is a man with a life sentence and his wife in prison also, with their children left at home. A very sad situation for all involved. For some people loyalty is word, for others, its a way of life. Loyalty from a woman, to a man, in a situation like this, is very scary.

I am a single woman, I am a loyal person, I cant speak for what I may possibly have done, had it been me in that situation but i cant help but think, if i ever married a man, surely his job first and foremost would be the protection of his wife and children. The protection of this feircley loyal woman who was now in a cell, next door to me, crying herself to sleep and singing like a bird in the early hours of the morning. I conversed with her about her future, their future and what her plans were. Never for a second, did she doubt, she would stick by this man, for the rest of her life. I didnt doubt her either. I left before her release. She was to serve two and a half years.

This woman wasn’t lonely, she wasnt after status, she was married, her life had been with this man, they had three children, a house, a business. Her loyalty as a wife, to her husband serving a life sentence, was true. For no other reason, than love. Her intentions for this man, were clean and pure, she would not condone his actions, nor her own, however she had made vows to this man. Her vows, were everything to her, him, their marriage and their life. Now as prisoners. One thing is for sure, she would not allow criminal behaviour inside of prison, she would not assist with it, talk of it or even consider it. Lets face it, being loyal to a man in prison, who is screaming out for release but engaging with criminal activity inside, is not being loyal, its being stupid.
It must be hard, to be in love with some who is in prison, for a long time. Love doesn’t put you at risk, love doesn’t waste your time, love isnt easy, but it doesnt use you, manipulate you, engage you with criminal behaviour or take away your own life, for that of another.

I have seen women who have partners in prison, who are fighting for them, being the light in their dark and ultimatly would do anything for them. These prisoners are involved in criminal behaviour in prison. Why as a free woman, would you put yourself in this position, to risk your freedom, your life, for loving a man? Loving a man, who is in prison, involved in crime inside and promising you the world when he gets out? Is it me,or is that not love? Because if it is, i dont want it! To be used, manipulated, vulnerable an put at risk, not only your freedom, but you future. It scares me. If this is what a loyal woman is?

As a man, to put your wife in that situation, is not showing love, its not showing progression or change. As a women who accepts that, its not love. Its status, ‘I’m a ride or die’ ‘I’m loyal’.
Where are the women, who would never accept this way of life, the woman who ‘ride’ for themselves, who are loyal to a cause and whos only concern is for the welfare of herself and her own life?

Ive seen all to often, the status that comes with being a prisoners wife, from contraband phones to drug smuggling. If a prisoner is texting you, believe me, he is texting someone else aswell. Can you even imagine, if you, took him the phone, enabling him to be on pof, twitter, facebook and where ever else he can access an account? Do you think, you took him the phone, or he has a phone,to only call you!? Are you being loyal to him, for years, while for years he is awake at all hours calling and texting other women. Its a shame but very much happening today, tomorrow and for however long you allow it. At what point, does loyalty become lonely, desperate and something that isnt worth fighting for anymore?

The lady who I met in prison, who was married, would have never considered speaking to her husband on a contraband phone. She would have never entertained the idea of him being a drug dealer, selling phones and involving himself in criminal activty. Does that mean,in these mens eye she wasnt loyal? Because, all she wanted was the best for her husband, to secure his release and ensure, there was never any reason, when they day finaly came, that he could still be held at HMP.

To accept, allow and be involved in such antics, is stupidity. As a prisoner who awaits release, who dreams of, talks of and wishes for they day they leave prison and as a loyal prisoners wife, allowing this, helping this to happen and accepting this way of life, isnt loyalty. Its a waste of a life, the prisoners and your own.

How are we fighting for the release of prisoners, who on a daily basis are still commiting crime, inside?
Prison will test a relationship, it will test loyalty, it should not risk the prisoners rehabilitaion nor the prisoners wives freedom, free will or integrity.

If you want to show loyalty, use the amnesty bin. Encourage change, fight fot change, live and breath for prison reform, fight your cause, use your voice and make a stand against systematic failure.

My Personal Statement

Following a conversation I has with the course leader and The University of Worcester, I have spent the weekend tirelessly composing my personal statement for the Applied Criminology course. Reading, researching and writing this has really got me thinking, why am I doing this, why do I want to study criminology, what about it interests me and where do I want it to take me?

This statement has been edited, proof read, emailed back and forth to various people all offering me a helping hand, so thank you all. It really means a lot to me. I feel like I have been in front of the laptop for a life time, its all worth my eyes hurting me though.

Having witnessed a good 15 years of serious drug abuse and a life time of mental health problems and of course my own personal experience of the CJS, I have gained a strong understanding of things being put in place for peoples protection but I have also witnessed, experienced and felt so many of these failing miserably. All of my life I have had to fight for not only myself but for the proper care and help close family members have needed. I am 26 and for the 26 years of my life it has been a battle, and to this day, it still is and I have no idea when it will end or even if it will end. The only thing I can do, is keep moving forward.

For me, moving forward means I raise awareness of every single system that I have witnessed failing people. Not because I like doing so but because it is important for these systems to recognise what they do, doesn’t work. For my own privacy and the benefit of my family I wont use real names, but the experiences are a true recollection of events in my life.

A close family member who battled with heroin addiction for a massive part of my life, ended up with serious mental health problems. Can you imagine reading hand written notes from a person, stating what the FRIDGE had SAID to them. Well, for me, this was a daily read. Like a newspaper. I was constantly calling this family members drug worker to inform them of what was going on in a house that was only lived in by the said person. How safe is it, for this person to be living alone, thinking the fridge is talking to them. Not only that, they thought that some one had bugged their ears with a tracking device, like, literally thought someone, without them realising, had put something inside of their ear. You couldn’t talk in the house our of fear of being recorded, 100’s and 100’s of pages were written about what the fridge, cooker and car had been saying to this person. I am laughing now just recalling some of the things, the fridge said. The drug workers we shocking in dealing with this state of mental health and drug abuse. Obviously, if someone is going to take drugs, I know full well that nothing anyone can do will stop them. That goes without saying. Regardless of that, their should be a duty of care. I was actively urging the drug workers to assess this family members mental health as I feared their safety and other peoples safety may be at risk. I would call them, go to their office and show them what I was reading, tell them what I was seeing and urging them to act. Before something life changing happened.

It took months before anyone took this situation seriously, in the mean time the said persons state was drastically worsening before my eyes. I was a teenage girl, witnessing such damage and screaming for help and nobody was helping me or this person. It was absolutely infuriating. Many of times I considered washing my hands of this said person, as I know, you can not save a person who doesn’t want to be saved and sometimes the fight was just too much for me. With that being said, I understood that addicts are just that, addicted. They have no logical thinking, no consideration to the hurt and trauma they are causing and in this case, they had no proper support. The actions and intentions of this said person, were never bad. It was simply a person who had been completely stolen by heroin and any other drug they could get their hands on. That is why I continued to fight, because I had no choice. With family support and constant phone calls to drug workers and mental health teams, we finally got this family member sectioned.

It shouldn’t have been my job, as a teenager, to make this happen. I am not qualified in drug rehabilitation nor am I qualified in assessing mental health. However, those people who’s job it was, to do that, didn’t do it.

Following this family member being sectioned, a whole new insight to the care of people with mental health problems was witnessed. A huge concern when the patient is trying to discharge themselves and the hospital is allowing it!!! After the whole battle to get this to happen, we now had another fight to make sure that the person remained where they needed to be. This is what I mean, when I say my battles are never ending. There was a meeting where the said patient fought their case to leave and then another family member there, who fought for the continued care of the patient. Thankfully, the sane one, won. The patient remained in the care of the hospital.

A day release on Christmas day, I will never forget this. So, the said family member came home for Christmas, proceeded up stairs and returned some time later, obviously out of their face on heroin. I called the hospital and told them, said person was home and taking hard core drugs, the woman said ‘they cant be doing that, they have subutex’ ???? Um….YES they can, they just have and I am calling you to TELL YOU, they have done it. She proceeded to tell me, this was impossible. Yet, I had just seen it happen. After a bit of a heated discussion, the woman on the other end of the phone actually hung up on me. Upon delivering said person back to their care, I left in the hands of another family member to inform the hospital staff of what we had witnessed that day.

To date, it is still an ongoing process to ensure the said family member is on the straight and narrow, receiving the proper treatment they need and support from services that need to support them. I think, this will always be on going.

Not that I would wish this, but it still should raise concern, that as a child I was put in a position to witness and live with this. Prison was horrible but no where near as horrible as seeing this happen before my very eyes, day to day, year to year.

So, my application to study criminology will hopefully end up, with me, being in a position to help not only people who have been involved in the CJS and the prison system, but also to be of some support and help to anyone who has experienced and witnessed drug abuse and mental health issues. I’ve seen it all, I’m still sane, alive, motivated and with enough drive and hard work, I know I can make a change.

A Visit from my Dad.

After an eventful few days, my dad popped in for a cuppa, he’s been reading my blogs and is aware of my intentions to move into a much more challenging job role. After a brief chat about what options I have at the moment, we both laughed and pondered on were I would be now, had I have not been involved in that drunken fight. I assured him, everything happens for a reason and I may not have got as far as I have, if I hadn’t endured all that I have. Living in ‘The Big House’ was character building. With that being said, he still says “It must have been traumatic for you Michaela”.

He knows that only too well, he took the brunt of my pissed off phone calls telling him every single story of what the offender management team in the jail and outside probation were doing to me for two years. Nothing caused more trauma than the day I called him to tell him of my experience, starting the T.S.P Course.

Having been willing to do any course in prison offered to me, just to pass the time of day, I would of happily participated in this course, had they deemed me suitable. In fact, after completing various alcohol awareness courses, due to the fact I had been drinking when my crime took place, not because I had an alcohol problem, I actually approached the offender management team myself, to ask them if I could be on the next T.S.P course. This was 6 months into my sentence. They did their assessment based on various questions, my offence, background, my risk and progress I had already made so far. They said, I didn’t need to do the course. So, that was that.

I was, at that point, medium risk to the public and low risk of reoffending. According to their assessment anyway. Of course I didn’t need to do the Thinking Skills Programme. It was my first time in prison, I had no alcohol or drug problems, prior to prison I was in full time employment and I had no problems with mental health. My reviews from my previous alcohol courses were great and the course leaders had stated to the offender management team that they had no concerns for me in the future and as far as they were concerned, I didn’t need any more help.

Fast forward 1 year and I can apply for my Cat.D status. Everything was looking great, not a chance in hell that I could get a knock back. Outside probation had been in to visit me, all went well. OM were backing me, so I should have been out of there to spend Christmas at home with my daughter. I was sitting the board for my first home leave. When I heard my name over the tannoy being called to the resettlement office, I was so excited. Then my world came crashing down. My home leave had not been authorised by the prison because my outside probation officer had put my risk up from medium to high. Without telling me or telling the prison. With out any reason. This woman, had called my mum and told her she was approving my home leave and I would be back for Christmas. She did approve my home leave, knowing full well the prison would reject it because they don’t let prisoners out who are deemed a high risk to the public. But, she approved my home leave and put me up to high risk, how the hell does that work?

I called her straight away thinking she must have changed my risk by accident and not realised. Needless to say, I cant recall the whole conversation we had because I was so annoyed. My probation officer informed me, it wasn’t a mistake and she deemed me a high risk on purpose. That was that, I wasn’t going home and I had yet another complaint and battle on my hands to get myself out of there. I urged her to send me, in writing, her reasons for deeming my high risk and also he reasons as to why, myself and the resettlement team were not informed. After being in prison for 18months, as a low risk of reoffending, medium risk to the public and doing all the offender based courses on offer, with no warnings and the backing of everyone inside the prison, how the hell had she deemed me a high risk to the public? I was to find out, after another Christmas spent in my cell.

January came and I received a letter from probation, stating that, she feared I had alcohol problems which would be of a huge concern to her if I were to be allowed home. Yet, she approved my home leave? AND I hadn’t completed the T.S.P course, yes, the one I asked to do a year ago and wasn’t suitable for.

After I composed a letter of complaint to my probation officers line manager, I sat tight and waited for a response. It took about 3 weeks. Thankfully, the manager who received my complaint saw what a sham it was and put me back down to medium risk but then I would only be allowed to reapply for my home leave once id completed this T.S.P course. Apparently, after no change at all in my circumstances, I was now deemed fit to participate in this ‘programme’.

So, here I am. 21 years old, in prison for the first time, filling in a ‘treatment’ form. When I queried why I was signing something that said, ‘I will comply fully with the treatment programme’ I was basically told, asking questions like that doesn’t show compliance. Um…how can I comply with something I don’t understand? I was 19 years old when I ended up in a fight in a nightclub with a stranger, a first offence and now I’m sat here answering yes and no questions of ‘have you ever considered having sex with an animal’ and ‘have u ever considered having sex with a child’. This is the sheer definition of causing people trauma. I will never forget how I felt, sitting there with that woman, answering those questions. Any one in their right mind could see that I didn’t need to do this course. I sure as hell did not need any treatment. She never did clarify, why I was signing a treatment form, I don’t think she knew herself.

Day one, on the T.S.P course, I find myself sat in a semi-circle of 9 other women, all repeat offenders with serious drugs and alcohol problems and various mental health issues. I could not believe it. Three women were delivering the course to us. The lady that told me asking questions didn’t show compliance was in for a big shock, I questioned everything. Its in my nature. The course involved role play, setting and achieving goals, effective communication and a huge time was spent on ‘comfort stories’. You cant make this crap up. Yes, agreed, some people always have a sob story, a reason as to why they did something, this was a huge focus on what we, as offenders tell our self and other people about the nature of our offence and/or offending behaviour. Personally, I was struggling to even come up with a ‘comfort story’ I didn’t have one. I fully accepted that fact, I committed an offence, while drunk and I am serving my punishment. OH MY GOD, you can actually get into trouble on these courses if you are unable to offer a comfort story. After a lot of interrogation from the course facilitators, they came to the conclusion and subsequently noted down my comfort story, as to ‘I was drunk when it happened’.
When I explained that, I didn’t agree with that being a comfort story because had I have been sober, I know it would never of happened, they, assured me, it was a comfort story. OK, so day one, progress so far and the outcome achieved was, I now know that I tell myself my offence happened because I was drunk, to make myself feel better and so it lessens the impact when telling people. Although, I didn’t tell them, they probed me into saying it. Great start. I phoned my dad that night in tears saying I didn’t know how I was going to cope for the next 4 days. The memories of this course still scare me now.

Over the next few days I was told to slow down my written work, incase I made another women feel as though she wasn’t as good as me because I could work with speed, and it wasn’t a good look for me to be finished a good half an hour before the other prisoners. I was also told to stop offering answers when nobody else was willing too, and the obvious, stop asking us questions!

The next interesting subject was ‘red flags’ now I wont lie, I did like this and in all honesty I still apply this now to my life, what is a red flag thought. In common sense it is just a gut feeling that something isn’t right, that this could lead to trouble, or in our cases, doing this, could lead to offending. I didn’t need to know, that in T.S.P they call this a ‘red flag’ because I have common sense and I know right from wrong, and following my conviction I well and truly learnt the consequences of my actions. For instance, my offence was while out drinking, so if I am asked to go out drinking now with the girls, this should be a red flag, because for me, it is dangerous. Well, that’s what the T.S.P course leaders told me anyway.

Next we touched on passive, assertive and aggressive attitudes and actions. They told me, I could be considered aggressive because I question everything! I assured them, I considered it assertive. I also told them, if I ask a question, I don’t know the answer so educate me, please don’t belittle me. They didn’t like that at all. I already knew very well about passive, assertive and aggressive attitudes and actions, however it may have been worth while for some of the other women, so that part of the course was ok. Although, worryingly, I recall a repeat violent offender referring to her offences as assertive, because she was paying attention to what was going on around her and acting accordingly. The women running the course did nothing to amend this womans way of thinking and just laughed, like it was a joke, it really wasn’t a joke and I remember sitting there thinking, have I really just seen this. I’m getting told off for working to fast, asking questions and this woman has just said a massive statement on her thoughts when she commits a violent crime and these woman have just laughed and moved on. They were unable, unwilling and uneducated in how to address that statement from the offender to change her way of thinking, yet we were on a thinking skills programme.

Finally, role play, everybody hates role play! Me more so than ever based on this next experience. We were all given a part to play. We didn’t have a choice, we had to comply. Imagine being given a role as a sister who’s role was to convince the person in question to go out and get drunk with you. That was the role I was given, I was to pursued the woman to come out and get drunk. Another woman was given the role of trying to make the person stay at home. I complied, gave a fantastic acting performance, again, a role I been given and then in my final written report, it stated I had raised serious concerns to the facilitators when acting too persuasive. That’s right, I ACTED too persuasive, in a role given to me, by them, to pursued this lady to go out drinking. I still can not believe that report. I wasn’t expecting a fantastic final report but to anyone’s standards, that just takes the piss.

This course did nothing but cause me serious problems, I will never forget it. A course which I wasn’t suitable for, that wasn’t designed for me and did absolutely nothing to improve my thinking skills, decision making or perspective taking. It did however, give me a huge insight into the ability of these ‘Treatment facilitators’.

They struggle to engage with offenders, they didn’t address serious comments from repeat violent offenders, they can not take being questioned and they gave me a terrible report for speaking up against me being on that course in the first place.

Thinking Skills Programme. How much money was wasted on me, do to that course?

Finally, when talking to my dad about this, he asked me if the course facilitators ever encouraged or conversed with any of these women addicted to drugs about attending N.A meetings upon release. They did not. They did however, advise me and my probation officer, to do an alcohol awareness course upon my release! I didn’t do it, I didn’t need to. I need a drink now, recalling that!

Why?

Why would I start a blog, a twitter account and put myself out there so publically to say I am an ex offender?

I was released from prison over four years ago and I have always been quiet about my past to new people I meet. Its never been a secret I just chose not to discuss it openly, now here I am, posting blogs and tweets on a daily basis with my real name and photo!

It would have been so easy for me to move away from my past as I have held down a job since the very day of my release, I have a nice home, a car and I am settled. Being easy for me to move away from past on a day to day basis however doesn’t mean it is right. I have never been one to take the easy way out.

Why should I settle in a job role that I am not satisfied in? Just because it was a great opportunity given to me when I needed it. It ensured I wasn’t released from prison unemployed so for that I am and will always be greatful but there is a big wide world out there and I have big dreams.

Starting my twitter account was for a sole reason of contacting a company who offered me a job then took that away from me with no explanation after my conviction was disclosed. Four weeks on, I have over 400 followers and a shed load of people rooting for me.

Then came my blog, this is to highlight and address huge issues that stop ex offenders living and working in the community after their release from prison, when their punishment should be over! Four years since my release and I don’t feel like my punishment is over. How can I believe in a justice system that is supposed to rehabilitate ex offenders when companies are allowed to offer jobs and then retract their offers based on irrelevant and years old convictions? Yes, we all know this is not right but the fact is, it is happening and only a minority are willing to challenge it and stand up for not only what is right but what is in essence greatly beneficially for society. I mean, who wouldn’t want to actively participate in reducing crime rates and men and women behind bars by helping them get a job?

Having been in prison and experiencing numerous problems within the system I obviously have a very strong view on the state of the prison system and the criminal justice system as a whole, I may address and share my stories on that at a later date, the main focus for me at present is to raise awareness on the importance of employing people with a conviction. Everyone already knows that the prison system is falling apart and failing people massively with detrimental lifetime effects, I don’t need to blog about it. Yet.

Who better to shout from the roof tops why employers should give ex offenders a chance and a job than someone who has witnessed her life fall apart, who lost everything and got it all back and more, through gritted teeth, sleepless nights, early starts and a clear, driven focus on building a life after living in a cell.

Unless you have been to prison or you know someone who has, you can never understand it. Why are employers so unwilling to offer jobs to ex cons? I have always been employed, even in prison I was still in full time paid work. There is a preconceived idea that criminals are not educated, that they lack ambition and can not be trusted. Do these people actually know any criminals like that, because I, for sure, do not. The majority of offenders and ex offenders I have known are fast paced, knowledgeable, self educated, polite, and very much driven to put an end to their criminal past. How can they do that in a community that wont employ them? In prison I made a handful of friends who now I would trust with my life, these 4 women are all employed, they are all ambitious, loyal and willing to learn. They are all ex offenders.

With over 80,000 people in prison it is very troubling for me to live the easy life and not address this. Infact, it is out of the question. I can not do it. 80,000 people who are at some point, going to be released from prison who need a job. It may be unlikely that all of these prisoners actually want to come out and work but for the ones who do, why are they not able to? I am a very thick skinned woman, nothing really gets to me and I try and find the best in every bad situation I have ever faced but even I feel like giving up sometimes, I wont, but I do feel like it. Its 10pm now, I have been awake since 5am, worked my full day and now I am typing this because I will work tirelessly in the hope that with my words, someone else’s journey from prison to public will be made a little less difficult.

Its scary to think, of all the attention my blogs have been getting from various charities and people within the criminal justice system not one local business or employer has said anything about it. They wont employ people with a conviction but they wont say why! If I wont do something and my reasons are strong, you would hear them.

Their ignorance and uniformed views of ex offenders needs to change. I received a tweet saying “#banthebox wont even work we need to #bantheattitude”. Lets ban the attitude. Why aren’t employers brave enough to speak up and highlight their concerns, I am here, blogging open and honestly about a matter that is so close to my heart and I really fail to see how an employer having a conversation with me in regards to employing people with conviction will leave, with the same view they had before.

There will always be crime committed for reasons of greed and status but what about the people who committed a crime to feed their kids, to put a roof over their head, to eat? Yes, it was wrong but if you, as an employer took away a job offer or didn’t even give them the time of day because they have previous convictions, what do you expect them to do? Sleep on the street, eat from bins and beg for money?

Employers should have a duty of care for their communities, this duty should include doing all they can to minimise crime and what better way to do that, than employ the criminal. Give them a reason and a purpose, listen to their life story and I bet when you finally do that, you will see the potential they have to be a great success.

Ban the Box

Why do I think Ban the Box is a good idea?

Lets say in 2009, you make a huge, one off…life changing mistake. A mistake that lets you see the inside of a prison cell, one that causes many people a great deal of trauma, tears and costs them a fortune financially and emotionally. A mistake that was never previously considered, was not premeditated and could have easily happened to anyone who enjoys a few drinks out with they girls at a weekend.

Imagine this happened when you were a teenager and haunts you for the rest of you life on an application form while applying for a job, or at least, for the next 13 years, until 2022 when your conviction is finally spent.

Is it really relevant for me to disclose on a job application form, as a 26 year old woman, that I have a conviction from my teenage years, for a single, silly mistake.

In my current and ongoing search for employment I have always been honest about my past, my past has, of course, made me the woman I am today. Strong, ambitious, driven and passionate about securing a career. My past has ensured I have a strong work ethic and a need to succeed. My past, however, is why I sit in front of my laptop on this Sunday evening, typing this blog about my present struggles. Why is my past stopping my future progression, holding me back from reaching my full potential and killing my self confidence on a daily basis?

The reason or at least part of the reason is because of the box I tick on an application form to say I have an unspent criminal conviction. Which then follows with “please give details of the offence or custodial sentence” so here I am supposed to write “GBH – 4years”. This box for ‘details’ is hardly a place for me to be writing I was convicted as a teenager for a drunken offence and go into detail of the time passed, the progress I have made and the ins and outs of my court case and prison sentence. While on the subject of the ‘detail’ box, it may be worth me adding that on most forms it does say something along the lines of “please note, ticking this box will not automatically mean you will not be considered for the position”.

In my experience, that is exactly what happens, unless of course, the recruitment agency are late to disclose your conviction to an employer who has already offered you a job, then retracts it based on your late disclosure. So, that time I was lucky, I actually got an interview, got the job then the job got taken off me. For ticking the box, being honest and trying to move on with my life.

Another recruitment agency who I was working closely with in my quest to find a new job, had assumed that the two year gap on my C.V was a career break to have a baby. This lady was putting me forward for various roles and interviews and contacting me regularly via email with new job vacancies until one day she called me regarding an interview, where she mentioned my two year career break to have a baby, when I informed her that gap in my C.V was not to have a baby it was because I was in prison, I never heard from her again. Her voice changed in an instant and I knew that was the end of that particular agency helping me any further.

I applied for an admin role in an office via a third recruitment agency and a few days after my application was received I had a call from a lady who wanted to set up an interview for me, she briefly asked me questions about my current situation and a few things about my C.V. Needless to say, she asked what I had been doing in the two year gap and again I informed her of my past conviction and she actually said to me “well, I wont inform the company because although they can’t discriminate they probably still will”. I mean, what hope have I got, if recruitment agencies are telling me this? And again, needless to say, the job in question, I didn’t get an interview for and I didn’t ever hear from that woman again.

In my current situation I can not progress at all if recruitment agencies are unwilling to work with me and companies take job offers away from me after finding out about my past, which I don’t ever try and hide. For me, ticking this box either means I wont even get an interview at all or I will get an interview and once the conviction is disclosed I wont be successful, with no explanation as to why.

There are laws in place to stop discrimination, I have committed a crime and been punished for that. These companies and recruitment agencies who discriminate against me because of my conviction, are in essence breaking the law but of course, they have their employment lawyers in place and loopholes which allow them to carry on doing this. Its a shame and so ironic that the people who are unwilling to help me and give me a chance based on my past behaviour are showing unethical and immoral practice at fair employment, so in actual fact isn’t their current behaviour verging on being just as bad as mine was?

With some many people in prison or serving community sentences, how will they survive if they are treated this way, when they want to break the cycle of reoffending and ending up back in prison but due to being unemployed they revert back to crime, because for them it pays the bills. If people with convictions can not find a job, can not pay their own way and support their self or their family they have two options, sit on benefits or commit crime.

Many people in the criminal justice system, are not criminally minded, they have simply made a mistake, and even the ones who once were hardened criminals can change and want to live a life as a law abiding citizen. Prison changes people, life changes people and a job for a person with a criminal conviction or who is being released from prison can be the biggest and most important factor in them not reoffending.

For companies and recruitment agencies that are unwilling to assist in the employment of people with a conviction, they are missing out on hard working, loyal and ambitious employees. We face so many barriers and are held back from so many things that when we are finally given a chance, we don’t bite that hand that feeds us.

First blog post

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.

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