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The Journey Towards Inclusion and Purpose For Former Prisoners

Everyone should be given a fair chance to work, grow and thrive, regardless of their past: this is the driving belief behind the work of Esther Champion, a purposeful business owner and the latest guest on Good Journeys with Ben Veal, the podcast and YouTube show produced in partnership with Resilient Leaders Elements and Second Mountain Comms.

Esther Champion, a highly experienced criminal justice professional, established Bristol-based Myrtos Consultancy to help change perceptions around former prisoners’ value to the workplace. According to the company, over 80% of employers who have hired someone with a conviction positively rates their performance, reliability, motivation, attendance and performance — yet only 17% of people leaving prison manage to get a job within a year of release.

“Very hard to move on”

Esther believes this issue is largely a societal one — that former prisoners are judged on their past rather than their knowledge and transferable skills, as she shares in episode 031 of the show.

“We can often have a picture in our heads of what someone who has been in prison looks like,” reflects Esther. “Just to even challenge that [perception] can be quite helpful. Looking at the terminology that we use and how we are putting an identity onto someone — and therefore [considering] what that is doing to them. When we start labelling people, it’s very hard for them to move on from that label.”

“People being forgotten”

There are inherent flaws to be found within the criminal justice system as present, believes the purpose-driven business owner.

“A lot of people seem to be okay with people being forgotten about in prison — and when we look at women in the criminal justice system, a lot of women end up there because of the person that they are with: doing things for their partner and then getting caught and taking the blame. A lot of women are inside because of coercion, manipulation and control, yet they are getting punished for that. These women [often] come out, end up back in that relationship, and the cycle continues.”

In Esther’s experience, a lot of disparities exist between men and women within the criminal justice system: “So many women have been through so much trauma, and we have to work with women in a very different way … I’ve met some incredible women through the work that I’ve done who are such a force for good, but at the same time are so lacking in self esteem and self-worth that they stay stuck in this cycle. It’s really heartbreaking to meet these women who have given up on themselves: it makes you want to champion them and cheerlead for them, saying come on, you can do it!”

“Labelled and judged”

Ex-offenders in the UK are currently faced with a number of barriers upon leaving prison, and it is Esther’s belief that employers need to let go of prejudices and open their eyes, heightening their awareness around the strengths that prisoners can bring to the workplace.

“Employment is one of the biggest barriers that reduces re-offending … obviously we know that employment provides so many different benefits to us as individuals — it gives us that sense of purpose, social and financial stability, and being part of a community. If people don’t have employment and all that they know is a life of crime, how are they going to change their life? A lot of people coming out of prison want to work; whether it’s voluntary or paid work, they want something to keep them busy and to use their minds so that they’re not idle.”

Esther continues: “Some people come out of prison homeless and that’s a major practical obstacle — we need a stable place to live and feel safe in order to work. For others, a lack of work experience is a barrier — employers may not consider them because they do not have a CV or a history of employment like other people might have. And for many, just the fact that they have a criminal record means that employers won’t even consider them — the employer might not understand what shows up on a criminal record and why, what certain wording means or they think that because the person has a criminal record, the business’ reputation will suffer. There’s also a fear and a lot of misconceptions.”

Overcoming these barriers is a crucial step that must be taken to give so many men and women who have made mistakes in their past the chance to work towards a much brighter future. “So many former prisoners are very willing and able to do the work and have the same intellect as others, even if they don’t have the formal qualifications to prove that.” Many ex-offenders re-enter the world with feelings of “low self-esteem and anxiety, and with the belief that because they haven’t worked in the past, they can’t be a good member of society going forward. A lot of people leave prison feeling labeled and judged, like they’ve got his neon sign across their head.”     

Myrtos Consultancy brings over 13 years’ experience working in criminal justice in a variety of settings to run workshops, give support and advice and equip and empower employers to understand the complexities of the criminal justice system and its effects on the person. The business’ aim is to build more inclusive workplaces, increase confidence around hiring someone with a conviction, and enable sustainable employment.

Good Journeys with Ben Veal

‘Good Journeys with Ben Veal’ is the award-winning podcast and YouTube show that will lift your spirits, challenge you and drive you forward. Each episode is an intimate conversation with a vey special guest, covering their personal, moving and honest life journeys and the important lessons learned along the way.

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