I was a successful Project Manager and PA with over 25 years experience in administration within project-based environments across a wide range of industries including construction and design.
In 2015 I was arrested for fraud, and after two years on bail, I was convicted of fraud against an employer and abuse of trust. My original sentence was a suspended sentence, with 100-hour community service and a charge to pay my victim £40,000. I completed the community service but was unable to raise the funds. Failure to pay the charge resulted in a fifteen-month custodial sentence for contempt of court. Of which I served half.
I started my sentence in Bronzefield, terrified for the next eight months and not even thinking about the effect my sentence would have on my future. Whilst in Bronzefield I don’t think I once considered life beyond my sentence. All my energies were used on survival in the most horrific of situations, in an environment that you cannot begin to imagine. You have to live it to begin to understand the enormity of it and the massive effect the experience has on a person.
As my sentence was non-violent and low risk, I was eligible to move to Open Prison. I moved to East Sutton Park within a month of commencing my sentence. Open Prison is a completely different experience to Closed. It is all about rehabilitation and life after Prison. This is where the realisation of the damage my custodial sentence would have on my career hit home. It becomes apparent very quickly that a job as a project manager was no longer an option for me. I would have to declare my sentence when applying for work and due to the nature of my offences a job where I would need to be trusted with financial responsibility.
ESP is a working Prison, so you have to work whilst there as part of your rehabilitation. I chose a job on the farm and between my shifts on the farm and the education program at ESP, this is how I spent my days. Neither the farm experience nor basic educational qualifications I was taking were giving me a foundation for new employment opportunities when I left.
ESP held job fairs regularly where you could meet potential employers and external companies that offered training and help in finding work. I met Tanjit at one of these events and after talking with him about his training program, I applied for a place. I had to sit an interview and thankfully was accepted. This was the first time I felt I may have a future.
I had never considered optics as a career and to be honest if my life had not taken this path I most probably never would have, but it was the perfect fit, from the first day I enjoyed the course work and seemed to have a natural understanding of the subject. The course took place in Maidstone so I was able to leave Prison on licence during the working day and return back at the end of the day. The course started to raise my confidence in myself and my future. As I passed exams and gained knowledge I felt that this was the one good thing to come out of my custodial sentence. Not only did the course get me out of the Prison environment during the working day but it also filled all my time when back in the evening and weekends revising and learning. I was proud of what I was achieving in a situation where there was very little to feel proud about.
The course went really well for me, it is so informative and the trainer was amazing at engaging everyone on the course no matter their level of understanding. It is packed with practical exercises, as well as the written element. I gained the knowledge and confidence to seriously consider working as an optical assistant in the real world. I actually looked forward to every day I attended.
At the end of the course, Tanjit helped me to approach potential employers. He assisted with my covering letters and CV and made me feel completely supported. Thanks to this amazing opportunity I started my first job employed as an Optical Assistant two days after my release from Prison.
Twenty months on I am still working in optometry, I am at a practice closer to home now and loving my job. I have completed my cert 3 qualification in dispensing and commence my cert 4 in September. My employers are aware of my conviction and are amazingly supportive. My performance at work is what I am measured by and not my history.
Without the Prison Opticians Trust, I don’t know what my life would look like now. They gave me the opportunity to learn a new skill, which has secured a solid future for me. It has allowed me to continue my education, improve my prospects and progress in ophthalmology. I am able to support myself and plan for my future. I plan to continue with my exams and see where it takes me.