How education gave me a second chance

Author: | 24 Mar 2023

Excluded from school for being disruptive Neil had no interest in education when he was sent to prison. But slowly he caught the learning bug and now has a degree to his name.  For Longford Blog he describes how, with our backing, he landed his dream job in prison reform.


The letters A,B,C,D are probably the most important determination of a teenager’s future, the higher the letter, the better their chances of carving out a successful career. Unfortunately for me, instead of getting a GCSE grade, I received a different sort of B – I was sent to a Category B prison.


Even if I’d stayed at school I probably wouldn’t have passed any of my exams. I had no enthusiasm for education, was disruptive and an all-round nuisance for the teachers who passionately gave up their time despite my antics. Looking back, this was even more depressing as I actually had an ability to achieve: I started out in all the top sets but found myself in the lower tiers because of my behaviour.


I was suspended and subsequently permanently expelled. A gaping hole in my personal development and a lack of structure left me destined for failure. And I became the ultimate failure, committed an horrendous crime and – rightly so -received a custodial sentence for longer than I had been alive.


Getting back on track


Spending time in the juvenile prison estate meant that I was faced with my arch nemesis again – education. True to fashion, I wasn’t interested, had zero motivation to learn, and attended just to get out of my cell. Now, 16 years on, I have a degree with first-class honours, am halfway through an MA in Crime and Justice, and I already have a blueprint for a possible PhD.


So how did I get hooked on education? In prison there is a requirement to complete Maths and English to an adequate level. For me this was boring but essential. Once you have completed the foundations, other courses become available. After spending four years passing English and Maths, I was invited to study Sociology at GCSE level. At this point I was more mature and enjoyed my tutor using the Sociology syllabus to help me understand how society works. As well as a qualification, I was learning about myself and how I had found myself in prison.


Getting motivated


I guess when there is an intrinsic motivation you are more committed to learn. As time went on, I was excited by study. I even washed the sleep out of my eyes to ensure I was bright and early for class. As well as attending lessons, I would pull out the books on a night-time and indulge in reading stuff outside the syllabus.


I stuck at it and achieved a respectable grade B. I had caught the education bug. With the same inspirational teacher, I next completed 7 more GCSEs. Then my tutor suggested I start higher education at The Open University.


Distance Learning and Student Loans


I continued with the Social Sciences, took advantage of a student loan to pay for my OU module costs and dedicated my time to learning. After navigating the prison system’s distance learning troubles, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences. I was ready to stop there. I was already anxious about release and didn’t want to incur any more debts through student finance.


Fortunately, I was responsible for helping other prisoners choose higher education opportunities and was made aware by my peers of what The Longford Trust offers. I noticed the energy and positivity among those who were on a Longford Scholarship and I wanted in! I applied and, to my delight, they awarded me three years of funding towards an MA in Crime and Justice.


A scholarship that goes beyond money


Once I had been accepted, the Trust’s director came to meet me in prison, explained that the scholarship is more than paying for tuition fees, and talked to me about finding a suitable mentor. Over and above the financial aspect of the scholarship, one of the key advantages it provides is having one of the Trust’s trained mentors to support you one-to-one.


I have now been in the community for twelve months and The Longford Trust has shared my resettlement journey with me. As well as getting my studies transferred smoothly from prison to community, they have offered me professional advice and a helping hand whenever I need it. So much so that they helped me land my dream job of helping fight for fairer outcomes in the criminal justice system. My rehabilitation journey would look incredibly different without them.


If you feel inspired by Neil’s story and would like to apply for a Longford Scholarship, contact Clare Lewis for details or an application form, or write to her at Freepost, Longford Trust (you don’t need a stamp)

What it means to be home for good

Author: | 6 Mar 2023

Many of our newly-released Longford Scholars are beginning – or continuing – their university studies at the same time as adjusting to being out, being back at home, being with their families, and with everything that goes with that. For Longford Blog, current scholar Mark reflects on the good things and the challenges he has faced since his recent release.


I want to try to give others an understanding of the challenges and difficulties those who have left custody face around adjusting back into family life while, at the same time, studying and trying to become a rehabilitated, functioning member of society.


Firstly, we all have a past, and I know there’ll be other people out there in my position who feel alone in their desire to change while still battling old habits so as to become a better person. Since release, some of the things I have noticed are stigmas and pre-judgements from those who don’t know what we have been through.


Change isn’t easy at any time

There is little understanding of how difficult it is redefining yourself when you have your past behaviours, the lack of self-belief you can feel, the lack of confidence and/or lack of education that gets in the way of taking the step to embark on a university degree.  Change isn’t easy at any time especially when facing how others may view you and the impact this can have.


When I look back to my old impulsive choices – negative choices – that I made without thinking, now I believe that these actions grew out of the rejection I faced as a child from my family, the people who were meant to love me. The lack of support I received contributed to behaviours in me that led at times to people getting hurt, often through what I would say. It was, I now see, ‘people-pleasing’ and trying to fit in. The negative opinions that people throw at you can be a huge hinderance when you’ve actively tried to change your life and be better.


How day-release helps

It was good to have the opportunity to come home on ROTL before coming home full-time. I could start to plan for release and to think about what a new routine might look like. Being home meant I was able to do work around the house that was certainly required and overdue – like decorating the wear and tear in the children’s bedrooms and other areas of the home that have come with their additional needs around behaviour.


And it has allowed me to spend time with my partner and children, rebuilding those ties and bonds. I could take them to school and be part of their education and be visible to their teachers. I attended their hospital appointments and, thereby, took some of the  pressure off my partner. There were fun family activities too. I began get to know them again as they have grown up a lot in the time I was away.


Most of the time, then, it was a positive exercise. But it was also very hard for the children to see me come and then go. They couldn’t understand why Dad couldn’t stay at home. One thing I will never forget was when I came home and decorated and changed their bedrooms. They didn’t believe I would do it before I had to go back to prison. But I did.


It’s not as simple as it sounds: you are always worrying about when you must be back at the prison and therefore spend a lot of time clock-watching. If you are late, even by five minutes, you can be stopped from doing ROTL again.


Home for good

Now that I am home full-time, those time pressures have gone. Yet, there are new challenges – living with four children whilst working  and studying. A few months in, I am pleased to say that I have managed to keep up with my university work and fully intend to keep going.  But it is not easy. I am at work four days on and then have four days off. I try to spend one full day in the local library but this doesn’t always happen as anything can come up with four children.


When I am not at work, I tend to do the cooking as my partner does everything the rest of the time. The huge hike in the cost of living has had its impact too. I am now fully responsible for my four children, my partner and the household finances. At times that is scary. How to make ends meet causes me to lose sleep. Unexpected bills like school trips can be a huge burden. When I came home I needed a car to get to work but, due to my criminal past, the insurance was much higher than I had expected.


In prison time was never an issue with my studies. Now it’s hard to find. To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for what the change would mean or look like. There have been obstacles to climb.


Living proof

Another challenge facing those like me who haven’t had a regular education is finding the continuing motivation and support required to study at university level.  But I’m living proof – having almost completed my BA Hons in Psychology with the Open University – that with the right people like The Longford Trust behind you, it is possible and achievable. If I can do it, others can too.


My advice would be to be honest with those who are working with you, not to feel it’s wrong to be struggling or finding things hard as you almost certainly will at points. When the journey feels lonely and challenging have faith in what you can achieve, take it in small steps, and always make your goals SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related.


If you are in prison or newly-released and want to study for a degree but worry about managing the challenges that will present, go to The Longford Trust’s website to find out what support is available. Or email our Scholarship Manager, Clare Lewis.

Leave a Lasting Impression

Author: | 22 Feb 2023

Our scholar Rishi attended one of the workshops run the Trust’s Employability Project thinking he was pretty sorted out around finding a degree-level job on graduation. 

But he discovered he had a lot to learn and a lot to gain by coming along.


Recently I attended an employability workshop organized by the Longford Trust’s Employability team and led by Sam Smith, the CEO of PEPTalks. It was for me an incredibly valuable experience, offering insightful macro analysis of the job market with detailed micro analyses that catered to every participant whatever their career aspirations.

And so much valuable information was packed into such a short amount of time. The workshop did it all in a couple of hours!

Practical advice on the jobs market

Before going into such programmes and workshops I always think that, having already developed my CV with many experienced professionals, I have little to gain. But I am happy to report that, once again, I was wrong. Sam’s passion for helping individuals like me to succeed was evident throughout the workshop.  He provided a wealth of practical advice on how to get on in the job market, from refining a compelling personal narrative to identifying and showcasing our unique value propositions.

He also emphasised the importance of staying nimble and adaptable in today’s fast-changing job market and provided tools and strategies for doing so. All of this was delivered in an engaging and accessible manner, making it easy for every participant to grasp the essential concepts. As a follow-up to the workshop, there was specific advice tailored to each of us. It has left a lasting impression on me.

Tailor-made guidance

What impressed me most was how Sam managed to tailor his advice to each participant. Despite the time constraints and wildly different career aspirations, he managed to provide detailed and insightful analyses. His personalised attention made us all feel seen and heard, and the opportunity to learn from someone as experienced and knowledgeable was incredibly valuable.

I would also like to acknowledge the Longford Trust for organising this workshop and providing us with the opportunity to learn from such an experienced and knowledgeable speaker. As a Longford Trust scholar, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities to learn from people as knowledgeable as Sam. The Trust’s commitment to levelling the playing field for its scholars and giving us the opportunity to prove ourselves is truly inspiring.

Any Longford Scholars, past or present, wanting to follow in Rishi’s steps on one of our Employability training courses should contact Abi Andrews to find out more.

Fancy Joining The Longford Trust Team?

Author: | 15 Feb 2023

We are looking for a part-time Fundraising Manager to join our small office team to help us sustain and expand the work of the trust.  Interested?  Read on….


The role: to raise the funds required to carry out the Longford Trust’s work


The time commitment: Part-time, initially 1 day per week, 12 months a year, with flexibility as to how that day is made up, both per week (can be split into a few hours spread over several days), and over the course of the year to accommodate busy and quiet times, and post-holder’s other work, family and holiday commitments.


Fee: Pro-rata of £30,000, paid monthly on a consultancy basis on receipt of an invoice made out to the director.  All post-holders in the team are responsible for their own tax, VAT and National Insurance payments. An appraisal system is operated and annual fee reviews undertaken.


Reporting to: the director who leads on fundraising


Working alongside: office manager, mentoring manager, employability manager, development manager, trustees


Needed: prison experience is preferred but not essential; a commitment to reforming the prison and criminal justice system; ability to communicate well in person and in writing; up to date IT and social media skills; knowledge of Gift Aid and Just Giving; decent numeracy.


Personal specification: suitable for someone wanting flexible working to fit around family and other part-time work commitments; self-motivated; passionate about prison reform and social justice; practical; and able to master a brief, talk to anyone, be persuasive, well-organised; work well in a strong team when there is no central office to bring members together every day, work independently, and show initiative.


What You’ll Be Doing


  • administer and co-ordinate the trust’s fundraising efforts, including Gift Aid, the trustee sub-committee on fundraising, fundraising events, support for individuals raising funds for trust;
  • work closely with director to research and identify fundraising targets;
  • make fundraising applications;
  • grow the number of regular donors making monthly or quarterly donations to the trust;
  • lead relationships with some funders;
  • organise a small number of fundraising events;
  • liaise with supporters organising fundraisers for the trust.


Workplace: from home, using Google shared documents, with regular phone and Zoom meetings with colleagues and regular face-to-face team meetings.


Notice period: one month


Application Process: applications in writing by CV and covering letter, explaining why you want to do the job, your relevant experience, and why you will do a good job.  Send to Peter Stanford, the Longford Trust’s director –  Any queries before submitting an application should be made to the director at the same email and call backs can be arranged. Closing date March 10 after which a short-list will be compiled and interviews arranged in mid-late March.

I was scared of taking on a degree

Author: | 8 Jan 2023

For Longford Blog, Simon, from our latest intake of scholars, reflects on his journey from arriving in jail and dismissing the idea of a degree because ‘all I had was GCSEs’, to overcoming his fears, beginning studying, and continuing on release from prison. If I can do it, he urges others, so can you…

Adjusting to being in prison at the start of my sentence was extremely hard. I needed a release to keep my mind focused. This is when I discovered training in the gym. It was my escape and kept me mentally and physically strong through tough times.

I was also thinking about how to improve myself so as to leave prison physically and mentally stronger. One day an Open University team came in to give a talk. From the first moment they spoke, I knew this was the path to go down. My biggest problem was what subject to study?  I asked family and friends for advice and decided sport, fitness and coaching.

Taking a leap of faith

I was scared. At no point in my life had I ever thought I was capable of studying at degree level. I’d done GCSEs but nothing more. A friend on my wing who I would train with in the gym reassured me. ‘You enjoy training and sport. You can spend many more months thinking about what you want to do and if you are capable. Or you can take a leap of faith, study a subject you enjoy and give 100% to it.’

That was the day I sent in my application. I wanted prove to my family that I could be a better man and achieve great things. To show them my dedication to studying was a way of  showing them and myself that the future could be better.

At the start of my studies I found it extremely hard to keep up with deadlines and find the time to study in the prison environment. As time went on, though, it became more natural. I began going to the prison library and borrowed all the books I could find on academic writing to try and learn. Soon I was achieving marks of between 70-80 per cent for all my modules. Access to computers and study material was really hard, but this was something I was doing for my future so I made sure I did all I could on my own, to reach my targets

Happy with the man I am today

Over the course of my sentence, I believe I have matured immensely, and feel happy with the man I am today. I put it down to maintaining a strict routine with exercise and studying. Without these, I don’t know how I would have reached the end.

When Covid came around, studying and prison life became very hard. We were all locked behind our doors for 23 and a half hours a day. I used the time to study extra hard and dedicated eight hours each day to reading and writing and an hour a day to learning a new language (Mandarin) to fill the time. I also wrote in-cell workout programmes and nutrition plans for other inmates to ensure we were all keeping active.

Fast forward to 2021 and I was transferred to an open prison which was great because I had more freedom and better facilities to focus on my studies and plan for my future. On day-release on several occasions my family travelled up and I was able to spend quality time with them.

My transition from prison back into the community has so far been a smooth process due to careful planning and a wide range of support. Not long before being released I made my application to the Longford Trust and was granted a scholarship. This involved a financial grant, a laptop to study with, and a mentor. Now I am continuing on the outside with the final year of my degree with the security of the trust’s support.

My mentor is amazing

My Longford Trust mentor is amazing. He will sit with me and go through my work, help me to understand areas where I could improve. He is also there for emotional support should I need it during these challenging times.

If I could give any advice to other prison leavers, it would be to be realistic in your future plans. Locked behind a door can give you a false view of the world and what to expect. Use all resources and support as best you can because life outside of prison is a huge transition.

Find out more about our Longford Scholarships and Frank Awards. You could soon be walking in Simon’s educational footsteps!


Why You Can’t Better A Christmas Book

Author: | 15 Dec 2022

If you’ve got a spare moment this festive season, for Longford Blog former scholar Dempsey tells his story of prison, Christmas, books and their power to transport us wherever we find ourselves

A supermoon shining older and colder than superstition cast a wintry light over London while the world hurried over cobblestoned streets to the seasonal sound of bells.  Gleaming brass bells ringing hopefully and insistently in the white-gloved hands of the streetcorner Santa.

From high-end boutiques dressed up and down and all around in silver and gold, from the gap-toothed vendor selling bourbon-laced eggnog with candy cane straws, to the young and old church group singing “We Three Kings” beneath a Victorian-era lamppost, make no mistake about it, Christmas time was here.  Here holding the candle of religion in one hand, here bearing the torch of commercialization in the other.  “Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas Day.”

A venerable smell

I was headed toward Hatchards, a Piccadilly bookshop that has been doing business in greater London since the 1700s.  I walked into the carpeted shop and over to a vintage end-table neatly stacked with contemporary works of fiction.  On an adjacent end-table were books of military history.

Surveying the shop as if I were about to rent a room, I could sense its comfort had been earned rather than given.  The place looks venerable, smells venerable and, with its glossy mahogany tables, ornate banisters, and green-shade bankers’ lamps, feels venerable.

I found the section with the works of Charles Dickens in paper- and hardback resting on high shelves and long tables. Taking David Copperfield in hand, I sat down on a well-worn burgundy leather Chesterfield that felt like the ne plus ultra of comfort.  While I reread the first page of the classic for the first time in a long time, an orchestral rendition of “Carol of the Bells” stole through the entrance whenever someone entered or left.  I felt a deep sense of belonging in that bookshop, a supreme contentment created by the holiday season, antiquated atmosphere, and the ghosts of all those Dickens characters floating from stories of the long ago.

Novels that sustain

I didn’t always have the luxury of visiting an elegant bookshop in a cosmopolitan city because I had been in prison for most of my life.  Been right behind the looming concrete walls of a prison in a part of New York State that stayed cloudy, stayed dreary, stayed brutally unsympathetic and impersonal, but most of all, simply stayed.

I was occasionally asked how I did my time.  How I served a lengthy sentence without breaking down and dissolving into the earth.  I invariably replied that I was saved by the novel, spared the destruction of imprisonment because of the novel’s ability to transport the mind, reroute and redirect thought and feeling.

The novel can entertain as much as it can sustain.  Books also shore up the abiding loneliness of imprisonment.  Lessen the sting of prolonged banishment.

In prison books are my world

A large part of life consists of the people who come and go from your life.  Some people you don’t mind never seeing again, others you do.  Books, their characters and the stories they tell become your friends.  Friends who remain.  Important and towering allies in an often cold and alienating world.

In prison books were of paramount importance to me.  When I was young, I felt that my friends were my world.  In prison my books were my world.  They were fulfilling and reliable and if I’ve yet to fully express what the novel has meant to me and can mean to anyone, I’ll offer up the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

An eye opening trip to visit Uganda prisons

Author: | 10 Nov 2022

As part of our
Employability project, this summer two current Longford Scholars won travelling scholarships to spend five weeks working with the charity Justice Defenders in Ugandan prisons.  One of the two, Wayne, reflects in conversation on what he gained by the experience 

Why did you apply to go to Uganda?

The opportunity immediately spoke to me – to my passions, and to my personal and professional experiences. I was about to graduate in my BA (Hons) degree in Youth Work and Community Development. My own experiences of the criminal justice system as a whole are what motivate me. Having the chance to experience how it operates in Uganda seemed too good to miss.

As I have become more reflective about my own adverse childhood experiences that resulted in abandonment, helplessness, homelessness, drug addiction and imprisonment, I have been questioning what my next steps in life should be, how can I use my lived experienced and the academic knowledge I have gained to make a real difference in the world? This informed my wish to go to Uganda.

What were you expecting to find there?

I didn’t really know. I was aware of where Uganda currently is economically, and that it was going to be a culture shock in comparison to conditions in prisons in the UK.

How was it different from what you were expecting?

Seeing something with your own eyes can be difficult to process. It was clear that there is a lot of need there. It could leave me feeling overwhelmed and helpless over where to begin, or what to do to support those going through a system that gives them such limited support upon release. It just places them back in the cycle of fighting to survive. It was hard to witness.

What was it like going into a Ugandan prison?

Thanks to Justice Defenders, we were welcomed by the prison staff but, once inside, it quickly became daunting. It was overcrowded and there were limited opportunities for education or work as part of rehabilitation. That was having an adverse effect on the prisoners’ physical and psychological wellbeing.

One of the main things that struck me was that there were a lot of officers who genuinely wanted to help those in prison. There was almost a camaraderie between prisoners and staff. They all seemed to understand that people were often committing crimes just to survive. Many prisoners had been unable to defend themselves in court, or didn’t have the means. They did not know how to challenge the criminal justice system, or even how the process worked.

What did you get involved in there?

In the prisons there were opportunities for us to meet prisoners and share our own lived experiences and encourage them that none of us are defined by our past. This was particularly challenging in a completely different culture with often extreme barriers and no obligation on the government for support on release such as housing or a benefit system. Among the topics we discussed were preparing for re-integration into community, anger management and drug awareness. We shared tools to help with dealing with these issues. These conversations created a safe space for the prisoners to open up and be truly heard.

Did you feel you made a connection with those you met in the prison?

It is difficult to build connections in short doses as we visited multiple prisons. One of the main ways was by sharing personal stories and vulnerabilities so as to build connection through the emotions we have all experienced.

How was it working with Justice Defenders?

All of those I encountered made me feel welcome and looked after. I built some meaningful friendships that I will continue to build on.

What did you gain by going to Uganda?

It has opened my eyes to the fact that, although we have our own challenges within our country, we are extremely fortunate in comparison to others around the world. We should remember and appreciate that. It has helped me identify more clearly  that I want to be involved in social change/justice and that we are not limited to just our own community to do that. There are people in the world who need support and help and we are blessed here, able to go and make a real difference in others’ lives.


Our travelling scholarships are supported by the Henry Oldfield Trust. We will be sending two more scholars to Uganda in the summer of 2023.  Any past or present scholars interested in applying should contact our Employability Manager, Abi Andrews


I know all about art’s power to change lives

Author: | 17 Oct 2022

With so much turmoil in the world at the moment – anyone reading this will know prisons and the justice system are by no means immune- it is heartening some things are resilient enough to withstand external pressure. Art has the power to allow people to express themselves and be a key to transform lives.

So much so that one ex-scholar is keen to share the opportunity to exhibit from a seaside art gallery. 

Jamie Chapman writes below for Longford blog

I have been lucky to have people who have played a positive role in my life: the team in prison education when I was inside; Sister Carmen, the prison nun; Inside Time newspaper; those at the Koestler Trust who unlock the talent inside; and the Longford Trust and my Longford mentor Carolyn in supporting me through my fine art and professional studies degree at Bath Spa University.

Since I graduated in 2017, I’ve been working as an artist, selling my work (I exhibited at the 2016 Longford Lecture, alongside three other fine art student scholars) and enjoying life.

I didn’t go back to London where I grew up.  Too many bad memories. Instead I’ve stayed in Weston-super-Mare, next to the sea, where I did my art degree in a college that comes under Bath Spa’s umbrella.

I now live in a flat that looks out to sea, and in June this year had an exhibition of my landscapes and sculptures  – many using recycled materials – in the Granby Building in the town. The Mayor came to open it. (See picture above)

Some people say art is self-indulgent but I know all about its power to change lives, mine included.

It has built my confidence and, when I work with young people at a local rehabilitation unit, I see how art gives them a way forward, an outlet, a non-verbal way to say what they think and have been through when they can’t find the words. Instead they use a pencil and a paint brush.

Recently I lost one of the last surviving members of my family. Because of that I’ve reached a turning point. Life is too short so I want to show my thankfulness and a respect for the opportunities and love that I’ve been shown.  I know what makes me happy and that is to make others happy and help them take their lives forward.

I have therefore taken on the rent of the same space in the Granby Building in St Margaret’s Terrace where I had my exhibition. It’s a great space. I am calling it The Gallery and – between other jobs – I’ve been busy doing it up to professional standards.

It’s cost me a fortune, but greed for money caused me problems in the past, so no matter.  I don’t need that pressure in my life. Now it is almost ready and my plan in the months and hopefully years ahead is to run it as a not-for-profit gallery, renting it out at cost to other artists so they can show their work.

Giving them the keys is my way of spreading happiness, whether it be to students at the local art school, the groups of local photographers and artists I’ve got to know here, or to any past and present Longford Scholars who are reading this and who are artists with work to share.


If you are interested, get in touch.  You can find me on Instagram at TheGalleryWeston, or contact and we can connect you.



Reforming probation from the inside

Author: | 20 Sep 2022

In May, we shared the news that a Longford scholar had gone full-circle, moving from prisoner to probation service officer.  His experience is proof that doors can open in unexpected places and offer surprising opportunities. 

That same scholar, Lawrence, has written for Longford Blog about his inspirational journey…

I recently enjoyed a ‘catch-up’ with some serving prisoners for a lengthy conversation about disclosing criminal records. In an attempt to inspire optimism, I talked to them about my own career opportunities and the positive experiences I’d had with employers who were prepared to overlook my prison experience and conviction.

The most recent employer to do this was none other than the probation service. Yes, that’s right, after two years in prison and a chunk of time on probation, I, with a First-Class Honours degree, am now employed as a probation service officer.

I am as surprised as anyone, as my early experience of probation didn’t get off to the best start.

In prison, my relationship with the probation service started poorly when they sent me some information from a formal risk assessment known as OASys (probation love an acronym). I had been classed as a ‘high risk of re-offending’, contradicting my own belief that I had offended under rare and unusual circumstances, not as part of a routine or lifestyle. Just to explain, I had never actually met the professionals behind this assessment, so the judgement felt unfair and harsh. The assessment also set out that I must refrain from contact with my lifelong best friend, as he had previously been my co-defendant during the legal process. If I did initiate contact, I could be recalled back into custody – a frightening prospect that often caused me vivid nightmares.

From that point, I distrusted probation less and less, seeing them as my enemy who would hinder my progress. My impression was reinforced by fellow prisoners who felt you could never win with probation, so there was no point in trying.

Things got worse before they got better.

I was convinced my successful future depended on going to university after prison.

For me, I was determined a degree was the key to avoiding life as an unemployed ‘former criminal’ who had disappointed family and friends. Imagine my delight to receive an offer to study for a degree. I felt I was about to get life back on track. And then probation suggested I might have no choice but to refuse the offer due to restrictions and licence conditions.

Any hope I’d had for the future swiftly faded away. I experienced a severe mental breakdown and I partially attributed it to conversations with probation which had drained all my hope. I was angry and blamed probation for my downward spiral, commenting that if I were to re-offend, it would be their fault.

Thankfully, the day of my release was when things started to change.

Wearing a suit, which I’d last worn on my day of sentencing, I made my way to a local probation office, as instructed. A helpful staff member held open a door for me and I walked into a large office, where I was told to sign in and ‘choose a desk’. It quickly became clear that the probation staff had mistaken me for a new member of their team – not a newly released prisoner!

My probation officer later remarked that one day I could maybe work for probation. To be honest, I took that with a pinch of salt. After all, I had been convicted of, and imprisoned for, a serious offence; I wasn’t aware of anybody with such a history becoming a probation officer in this country. I pretty much ruled out the idea from the start.

Things continued to look up with probation.

My probation officer wrote a supportive reference for a university panel hearing which scrutinised my convictions.

She said I would be ‘an asset to their establishment’. Her reference was instrumental in me being confirmed as a student; I think she’d be proud to know I successfully completed my studies with a First as a Longford scholar, after pouring effort, energy and enthusiasm into my degree. Probation also played their part in my academic success. To make studying easier, instead of time-consuming face-to-face appointments, probation permitted less time-consuming telephone appointments.

It’s fair to say that I no longer bear a grudge against probation; quite the opposite.  Professionals working in the probation service, which itself has been through a radical overhaul, regularly go above and beyond to support those sent that way by the courts, and I say this to anybody who is anxious about their upcoming period of supervision.

So here I am – a graduate signed up and working as a probation service officer. I am committed to using my lived experience of the criminal justice system to further reform it from the inside.

In time, I will be able to comment on whether that pledge has been a success or a failure. My colleagues have welcomed me warmly from the outset, and enthusiastically explain the acronyms so common in the service (OASys is just one) – without knowing that as an ex-probationer, I know them all too well!

I feel that my opportunity in the world of probation is, perhaps, an experiment of sorts, but I’m OK with that. I’m ready for the challenge. I encourage anybody reading this article not to write off any job role that seems inaccessible because, in time, situations change. There is always a need for talent, drive, creativity and resilience – qualities that can often be found in surprising places. Scholars and other graduates who have studied in or after prison have these in abundance. I have found a meaningful and fulfilling role and I intend to stay at probation for the long haul.

Find out more here about our new employability scheme for Longford scholars.


Top Tips for employers and people with convictions: disclosure

Author: | 21 Jun 2022

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve stolen a penny sweet or killed someone…we won’t take people with convictions.

Imagine hearing those words when you’ve done your time, moved on and are making a success of life. These words from a recruitment agent to a scholar, who had followed the disclosure process by the book, hurt. Though, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our new Longford employability scheme helps past and present scholars turning a degree into a career. The support includes guidance on telling an employer about a past conviction.

For Longford Blog, ex-scholar Neil reflects on what he’s learnt from his experiences….

First things first, some employers handled my criminal declaration well. They offered me the opportunity to sit in front of them and tell my story. Others, including the recruitment agency who treat theft of a penny sweet as seriously as taking a life, and a justice charity (in theory champions of rehabilitation) both managed my disclosure badly.

So poorly, it dented my already fragile confidence. Dented, but thankfully, I have ultimately used the anger and feelings of rejection to good effect, fuelling my search for more enlightened employers. Happily, before I chart some less good experiences, I write this now working in an academic role for a university.

However, before securing this role, I fell foul of confusion over disclosure on several occasions. The Rehabilitation of Offenders (1974), amended in 2014, sets out when and if people need to tell a prospective employer about a previous offence (‘unspent’) and when they don’t need to, in order to properly move on in their lives. In one case, a new employer misunderstood the records checks. This meant that having passed a basic level of disclosure and with my feet under the table in a new team, I ended up being put through a late more detailed enhanced check.

As I knew my previous conviction would show up under an enhanced check, I told my line manager, naively thinking, in this case, my honesty would indicate a integrity and be met with respect. Within half an hour of my declaration, however, I was escorted from the building and told I couldn’t continue in the position.

I sat outside the office in my car, shaking, riddled with anxiety and in shock. After telling my family, in the interests of balance, I did receive a phone call from the organisation who apologised, aware of the hypocrisy; an organisation committed to providing rehabilitative opportunities and second chances. Through my own investigations, I understood the employer had not acted illegally fighting my case.

I had to move forward, using my anger, hurt and resentment as a driver to finish my studies.

Sadly, I was no stranger to discrimination in the workplace. Ten years previously, I’d also fallen foul of another confused recruitment process by a charity where the employer admitted potentially illegal behaviour.

Long story short, this was another retrospective investigation into my past after they had overlooked the box which I’d ticked to say I had a conviction. The offer of the job continued but the nature of my role changed overnight.

I had to wait to be deemed ‘safe’ enough to be integrated with everyone else in my team.

Fortunately, I was mature enough to understand fears about potential reputational damage (it was a centre for children and vulnerable adults) and was continually informed by my line manager of discussions within senior management as to whether my treatment was fair, justified and proportionate. Ultimately, neither employer nor employee really knew how best to navigate the situation. Through open and transparent dialogue, we made the best of a difficult situation and I saw my employment contract through.

Stigma and shame

However, my treatment re-enforced a sense of stigma, shame and sadness that I still carry internally. Maybe it’s an overreaction on my part but I am interested in other people’s thoughts at this treatment by a charity whose mantra, at least in principle, emphasised fairness and social justice.

Although these experiences hurt deeply, I knew I had the strength to channel the discrimination positively.  I finished my studies, recently finding employment at a local university; a good news story to finish this Blog with.

Good news

After an interview in January 2022 and a subsequent telephone conversation, I was offered a research position at a university. Of course, my initial thoughts turned to disclosure. Once I realised my conviction would show, I immediately phoned my potential line manager to offer a declaration whilst requesting an opportunity to provide more information to help their decision-making.

True, my experiences suggested an honest approach could backfire, but I really wanted this job. But, if an employer would let a 20-year-old conviction dictate their thinking, then I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

Yet again, I had to recount a very difficult, painful time in my life to strangers. However, at each stage of the process my, now current, line manager showed sensitivity and support, explaining what would happen in clear terms.

In short, I felt supported and reassured at every step of the process.

This positive experience has, to my mind, key ingredients of how a good recruitment process for people with convictions works. For example, the employer outlines the exact level of records check at the outset so the potential candidate understands if their conviction/s will show. As importantly, the person can then decide whether it’s worth the effort and potential heartache of applying.

In my experience, if the conviction will be revealed, it’s best to get in front of the employer, to highlight any mitigation and positive, subsequent progress. As past and present Longford Scholars, we are much more than what’s written about us.

A face- to- face meeting allows time to gather thoughts, references and written statements which are useful if you’re nervous talking about your offence. Over time some convictions disappear but it’s useful to practice this conversation.

Looking back, I’m better equipped to deal with rejection, prejudice or discrimination. I’ve developed the resilience and emotional armour to deal more confidently with a knockback in a socially acceptable manner. I am continually improving my job prospects with a confident, strengths-based approach.