Change for the better - how charity helped ex-offenders turn their lives around
- Credit: HACRO
No matter what sort of criminal background they might have had, people can and do change for the better.
However, we don't often get to hear about it because reformed offenders usually want to protect their anonymity and not have their past dug up, especially when it comes to job applications or new relationships.
Herts-wide charity HACRO helps people who have been convicted of a criminal offence to turn their lives around by delivering family support and ex-offender employment programmes – both proven to reduce re-offending, which is usually around 28-30 per cent of law-breakers.
At the heart of the organisation is a drive to give anyone who has made a past mistake the opportunity to lead a life fully contributing to society instead of returning to their old ways on the wrong side of the law.
We spoke to different people who have been helped by HACRO to find out what advice and support they received.
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John, a 50-something living in West Herts, was employed in a managerial role before a one-off life event triggered him to use alcohol, which led to a criminal conviction and having to leave his job.
He lost his driving licence and had to rely on financial help from his family for the first time in his adult life.
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He said this had a profound effect on his mental health and he spiralled into depression. John’s probation officer referred him to HACRO and he worked with mentor Michelle, who helped him get himself back on track.
Having previously worked in logistics John wanted to do refresher training to help him find a job, and not only was he able to access funding for this, but he was also given support to improve his CV.
Through his newfound determination, he eventually found work with a logistics company.
Being back in employment has given John a sense of purpose, renewed self-esteem and a capacity to adapt to new ways, improving life for himself and his family.
John said: “The support from HACRO is great. I can’t thank my mentor enough for supporting me into work so smoothly and swiftly."
Unemployment is a key factor in why people re-offend. Peter, 53, from Welwyn Hatfield, became involved in drugs, which led to addiction and a conviction for supply.
Having been released from prison, and now in his 50s, Peter went to live in supported accommodation, volunteering in a charity furniture warehouse.
He had only ever worked as a labourer several years ago and was unsure how to approach the job market or how to disclose his criminal record. Peter was worried that he would not be able to get a job and needed guidance on disclosure.
But although his self-esteem was low, HACRO worker Tony helped him to access activities and volunteering, including the Digswell Community and Gardening Project, where he built up his confidence and made new friends.
Peter said: ‘’I enjoyed engaging in all the activities; the Digswell project helped me to build up my confidence in a working environment, gave me teamwork experience and I learnt new skills – this was the first step in getting myself back to work.
"Boxercise classes I took helped me to expand my social circle. I knew if I didn’t do this, it would have been a barrier to me staying abstinent. The activities gave me a reason to get up each day and a sense of worth. I started to feel good about myself and my confidence grew again."
Tony then set up an interview for Peter for a gardening job and helped him prepare for interviews.
Peter added: “The regular weekly activities prepared me for work, gave me some structure and routine to my week, which is important for entering the workplace. After, I was asked to give a presentation at the HACRO awards evening and would never have been able to do that before. I feel really positive about work and life now”.
Peter now works as a support worker for a charity, helping others to positively change their lives too.