From prison to employment: breaking the cycle of reoffending – by Jane Gould

When a former prisoner calls, desperate to find work, you ask for his contact details, and you find he’s sleeping rough in a tent. Not even a temporary address. A tent.

When a prisoner’s wife calls you in tears, because her visit has been cancelled with no reason and no notice.

When a young lady, devoted mother and former prisoner, who’s been working her socks off for the last two years, trying to reach the next rung of the ladder, tells you that she’s got a place at University.

When a prisoner shakes your hand and thanks you for “bothering” to come and support him.

When a new team of volunteers finishes a prison session and can’t wait for the next one.

And when our man in the tent finds not only a job; but a flat as well.

These are some of our daily highs and lows.

Reflecting heartbreak, anger, excitement and relief – our daily round at Clean Sheet.

Supporting former prisoners into work

We believe that everyone, regardless of their previous conviction, deserves a clean sheet. A chance to start again.

To us, each person an individual; not a self-justifying tick in someone’s box; but a person who has been knocked down and needs help to stand and function properly in an often hostile world.

So how do we do this?

Any former prisoner who wants to find work is welcome to contact us and start the journey. We have an ever-growing National Directory of Clean Sheet Employers. 91 at the last count, and representing over 16,000 individual business centres across the nation.

All these employers agree to actively consider Clean Sheet Members for any vacancies they may have, regardless of their convictions. That means work, training or volunteering.

Clean Sheet can offer its members serious opportunities to get into the game.

Offering convicts a real opportunity

So, how to become a Clean Sheet member?

Well – first of all, they need to be an ex-offender. Clean Sheet works exclusively with people who have had a conviction, whether or not they’re currently employed. We’ll first of all ask them to complete our Membership Module. This is a simple multiple – choice test, so that our Members Team can assess work-readiness. Because we promise our employers that anyone who applies for a job as a Clean Sheet member is someone we recommend who understands the workplace. The Membership Module is available online or in hard copy within our partner prisons. We ask for some basic information, so that we can make contact and help to look for the right opportunities.

Once the new member is successfully assessed, we’ll give them their Membership number and their personal login ID and password for the all-important Employers National Directory. This is followed up with a Membership card.

Sadly, we can’t pretend it’s all plain sailing from there on. Everyone has their own circumstances and issues to wrestle and overcome. Many former prisoners have no email address – making all communications and job applications a challenge. So we’re exploring a new option to provide each Clean Sheet member with a new email address.

Overcoming the daily struggles

Sometimes it’s just the chaos of life. If you’re living in a dysfunctional partnership, have childcare duties and debt plus unhelpful friends around you, you’re far less likely to get much support for finding the steady job that will keep you out of prison.

Most often the problem is lack of confidence. When someone comes out of prison, they imagine the word “CON” is tattooed on their forehead and a similar label on their back. Low confidence can hide behind a stroppy exterior. Or used as an excuse for not applying for the job they said they wanted. It’s the suspicion that they wont get it – so better not to face possible disappointment.

As our members build relationships of trust with the Clean Sheet team, this new self-belief will gradually grow to the point where they can dare to hope, dare to apply, dare to turn up for an interview and accept the job and a new life.

This guest blog was written by Jane Gould, Director of Clean Sheet, an independent, unfunded Registered Charity which supports former prisoners and people with convictions back into society with employment to break the cycle of reoffending. You can follow Jane on Twitter. This article is part of a series of guest blogs written by Injustice Documentary’s interviewees and other criminal justice reformers. If you are interested in submitting a piece, please contact us.

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