“Forty years ago I was locked up in a place like this – a residential home for young offenders. Today I have the keys to the place and I’m about to go in and help those inside to turn their lives around.”
Ingeus Community Support Worker Paul was standing outside an Approved Premises in Manchester and says:
“It’s a house with locked doors, where people who are coming towards the end of their sentences prepare for life on the other side of the door.
“My job is to assist them to restart a normal life by helping them with housing, benefits or other difficulties.”
Paul has worked for the Ingeus Justice division for 18 months. He describes his role as an ‘on the ground fixer’ combining his lived experience of the criminal justice system and his passion for supporting former offenders. People just like himself.
He arrived in the UK from Jamaica with his family when he was six.
He struggled to settle and soon became involved in “a lot of foolish and petulant behaviour” which led to petty crimes.
He had his first brush with the law by the time he was 11 but when his crimes became “too much and too often” he was sent to a young offenders’ institution from the age of 13 to 16.
“That place did pretty well for me,” he says. “I left there with four O-levels and six GCSEs and went straight into a technical college to study electronics.
“I soon realised that wasn’t for me so I joined the military. I experienced massive racism, left without permission and for a year was working at a store in London while also still drawing my Army wages.”
His dishonesty caught up with him in the form of a court-martial from which he was sent to a military prison.
It was on release he decided to turn his life around. He spent many years working in the community sector, helping organisations write bids for financial support, receiving a small percentage of the money if he was successful and occasionally working on the project for which he secured funding.
He later worked on a local radio station financed by the NHS aimed at engaging ethnic minority communities and when that contract came to an end he found himself unemployed. He was referred to Ingeus and a place on the Government’s Restart Scheme, aimed at getting long-term unemployed people back into work.
Ingeus values lived experience so his Restart Advisor recommended he work for the business and found a potential management position for him.
But instead Paul had seen a vacancy in the Justice division because: “I had set my heart on helping people to rebuild their lives.”
Although it represented a lower salary he does not regret the decision: “I love the people I work with. There are lots of others with lived experience and I have learned a huge amount from them. And then of course there are the other people who haven’t got the same experience but they show no negative attitude towards you.
“Working in this environment is good for me because I’m not judged on my past, I don’t have to keep looking over my shoulder.”
Paul, a trustee for an education group and member of the Manchester carnival committee, adds: “I consider myself to be in a fortunate position where my experience of the justice system, my Jamaican heritage and, at the age of 64, my life experience give me skills to support people to break the cycle of crime.
“I understand their frustration and I can empathise with them but spend a lot of my time explaining that they must get into the habit of living a normal life, one that’s conducive to being a good citizen. That’s how you get the best from the system.
“I have learned so many things about myself and other people. I realise that underneath it all we are all human beings trying to make our way on planet Earth. I am grateful Ingeus would have the time for somebody like me... and they even pay me a salary!”