30 May I’m home
Sorry for the sound quality in the first 20 seconds.
I’m finally home after 294 days in prison.
I’d really like to start with an apology. There’s no denying it, I sold drugs at a music festival. I did it after seeing the opportunity when my business at the time, The Lazy Camper, was at many festivals and got in to some financial trouble. I thought I saw an easy way out. I was a coward. I chose the wrong path and to my family, my friends and the community that believed in me, I really am sorry.
I’m not looking for sympathy or pity; I am looking to share my story to warn others of the dangers of thinking you are invincible. I want to give an honest account of my fall from grace and hopefully show the rebuilding of my life, and also the life of those who I met during my time in custody.
On the 1st July 2015, I was taken to prison on a judge’s remand. I spent my first two nights in Armley Prison. On the 3rd July 2015, Recorder R Singh tried to find a way to give me a 2 year suspended sentence, meaning I would avoid custody. However, due to the quantity of drugs I had in my possession (153g Marijuana and 5.62g of MDMA) and the opportunities I have been presented with in life, he could not find a way to do this. He sentenced me to 28 months.
By British law I was to serve a maximum of 14 months in custody and 14 months on license. All prisoners in custody, except those in for violence, firearms, breach of license or prolific offending are offered 18 weeks on Home Detention Curfew (HDC) or ‘tag’ as it is commonly known. I did everything I could in terms of positive behavior to work towards this from day one.
Fortunately, I was granted my house arrest from the 18th April 2016 to 30th August 2016, where I am on curfew between 7.15pm and 7.15am every day of the week. Beyond 30th August 2016, I will fall under normal license conditions: I cannot handle a firearm (including fireworks) for five years, I must meet with my probation officer regularly and I cannot leave the United Kingdom until 31st October 2017.
During my time in custody, I saw some terrible acts of violence, drug abuse and immaturity. Yet in contrast, I saw kindness, loyalty and dedication from prisoners who chose the wrong path and were eager to repay their debt to society. I found that instead of your stereotypical, intimidating prisoner looking for a fight, the place was mainly filled with lads suffering from low self-esteem assuming society would reject them outright upon their release; re-offending seemed like their only option.
My job was with the St. Giles Trust, a charity supporting the resettlement of ex-offenders in to society. I would often induct new inmates in to the prison and help the staff ensure those due for release had their benefits or a job sorted and place to live.
Working for this amazing charity with fellow prisoners and supportive staff, who treated me like a human and not just a prisoner gave me a real sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed each morning.
I counted down the days until my tag, but I never truly believed I would be released on time, or even at all; that place became my safety zone. I did not think I would come home. However, leaving that large gate with my ‘hold all’ in hand and seeing my mum and Nan that morning was the best feeling ever. I’ve never hugged them so hard. I was one step closer to repaying my debt to society and my family still loved me. Four weeks on and I still cannot believe I’m home. I have never been so grateful to be able to sit here at my computer, typing with a cup of Yorkshire Tea.
During my time in custody, I could not help but see so much potential in many of my fellow prisoners. I also saw how so many lacked opportunities on release to get a job and earn an honest, respectable living. I saw this as a major problem and with every spare few minutes I got, I started putting together a plan to create more opportunities for ex offenders to get in to employment.
With the support of governors, The Job Centre and the National Careers Service, I was able to write to organisations and even have Timpson’s visit the prison to give me some advice on how companies can hire more ex offenders. I had the pleasure of meeting Tempus Novo, a charity set up by prison officers focused only on finding ex offenders jobs; what an amazing cause. They’re extremely successful in the Yorkshire area, already placing 53 ex-offenders in to meaningful careers. I couldn’t believe that nobody was offering this on a national scale.
Tempus Novo gave me my first chance. After reading my business plan and meeting me in the prison, they have offered me a position volunteering with them to help place and support more ex offenders in to jobs.
Through the National Careers Service, I was then introduced to Rachel Mckimm of MyWorkHistory.com (a platform where you can upload your entire work history in to one place, and profiles can be tailor made for jobs and employers can find the right candidates more easily). Introducing this to prisons is the goal, and we could not get off the phone to each other. We had so much to discuss.
Rachel introduced me to her mentor, Nigel Stabler, founder of Prestige Recruitment. Nigel also gave me a chance after looking at my plan to support ex offenders in to employment.
Within one month of release, Nigel has not only given me a work placement at his company to gain some practical experience in the recruitment market; he has also invested in to my start up Offploy.com which will support organisations that are actively looking to hire ex offenders. We help to give everyone a second chance. I will be sure to share more information about my start up on this site once it’s a little bit more established.
I am just one lucky case. I had fears of walking down my high street and people closing their doors to me, but the community has been incredibly supportive. I would like to give everyone leaving prison that opportunity.
Most days I would write an in-depth journal of the events I saw, the feelings I felt and the stories I heard. I have just finished typing all of my handwritten scribbles up and found it extremely difficult, as it was like reliving the entire sentence over again. However, I want this to be read. I want my prison experience to be shared, not only to deter those who are thinking of committing a crime, but also to offer a clear and honest insight in to Britain’s prisons for all its positives and negatives. I would also like to take the readers on my transformative journey from a lost, confused individual, to learning how to survive in such a tough climate and come out the other side with a clear and positive focus. I will share why I am grateful for my prison experience.
I would like to end by thanking those who kept believing in me: The lads I met in prison, many of whom I lived with for hours per day, you kept me sane, you believed I could make a difference and you kept me smiling; The community, shop owners, business contacts, people in my local town and all the new people I have met since release, you have not written me off, you did not brand me, so many of you just gave me a hug or shook my hand. You made me feel welcomed to be back which is something I did not expect; My awesome friends from university, life and business, you would never do anything as stupid as I did but you kept writing and kept visiting – you helped me back in to society and kept me cheerful; My amazing family, Mum and Dad, my step Mum, my Nan and the entire family who visited often and wrote to me every week, you did not turn your back on me when I probably deserved it. Finally, to my wonderful girlfriend, Emily, who stood by me after I told her on our second date that I am looking at some jail time. I’ll be forever grateful to you.
I know how lucky I am and I will never take anything in my life for granted again. Freedom is precious, and I am not invincible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.