I was born in Yorkshire, moved to Australia when I was 23 and that’s where my offence was committed. Then I got a prisoner transfer back to England so I started the prison system in England in 2005 until 2012.
At the time that I went in you were limited to sort of work within the prison. There was a pallet making factory section, there was a flat pack furniture section, but it was very hit and miss and a lot of the time if they didn’t have contracts to work, you would still have to go but you were just stood about or sat about all day. Options which were available to take up voluntary work were other positions such as working at the Oxfam shop or charity shop type things. A lot of inmates that are office orientated or have had previous office experience would prefer this [CAB] and not only to help them when they get out, but also as opposed to going to other charity shops you’re more or less in the back, in the laundry so it’s not much difference to a prison job.
Within the prison system a lot of the times it’s hard getting on the courses. In the time I was inside I did the starter course for the computer, how to use a computer, the very basic one. I did it three times, because once you’ve done the course you don’t see a computer again, that’s in the closed prison situation. Such as Sudbury they’ve got computers in the library now or when I was there they had, but most closed prisons don’t have any, so basically when I got here it was still quite an alien being on a computer, my IT skills were pretty much zero when I landed here. I’ve sort of picked it up to adequate, I’d say adequate, I’m no IT wizard but I can find my way round it slowly.
I started [at CAB] in March 2010. I’d gone into Sudbury open prison the three months previously or so and I’d heard about Citizens Advice volunteering work through friends at Sudbury and so I applied, got in and started in the telephone room. My previous occupations that I’d done involved a lot of telephone work anyway so I sort of slipped into the telephone mode and went on various courses.
I did my Generalist Adviser course and Advice Session Supervisor course a bit later and then I started the job [full time paid work] in November and was released January 2012.
The best parts of it was helping people again. Obviously you can’t help everyone, but it’s being put in a position where you can make a difference hopefully to someone’s life. Secondary to that, it gives you a bit more pride in yourself back and it’s just good to be working in an office environment again, like I say as opposed to the prison environment. I mean you’d work here all day and then you’d go back and a lot of times you’d be walking back up the drive and well you’d feel, ‘not again’.
There’s a vast number [of prisoners] released without work and obviously with a conviction and in my case, age against you, employers if they have to choose between somebody who has a conviction and somebody who doesn’t have a conviction, but they’re on par with everything else, then they are going to go with the other guy aren’t they? It was probably going to be a struggle for me finding work on release and this was a great opportunity, it was a big help getting the paid employment before I was released.
I certainly recommend it [CAB]. I’d say there should be more of it, there’s a lot of guys in there, in prison that are clever guys. Alright they’ve messed up and I don’t know some of them might mess up on a continual basis, but I’d say that the charity sectors would be able to take advantage of these guys experience. Some of them are older guys like myself and it’s a bit different to being twenty something, there’s good opportunities. Obviously you can’t guarantee paid work but there’s a few guys have got paid work. Some take it when they are released and some go on elsewhere because they live further afield a lot of the time. Some of it’s just part time paid work so obviously they’ve got to find full time work, but I would certainly recommend it.