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Prison-leavers need a chance to become 'Returning Citizens'

  • Publish Date: Posted over 1 year ago
  • Author:by Chance Bleu-Montgomery

I once looked back at my life and wondered if I even got a first chance let alone in need of a second one.

My life started in a family where my father didn’t think I was his biological son. I experienced both physical and mental abuse throughout my childhood. I felt a lack of significance at home which left me wide open to other influences. I found significance in the street where my life changed further for the worst.

After losing my sister to cancer, I had a mental breakdown which led to heavy use of drugs and alcohol. I lived my life so recklessly that before I knew it, it had spiralled out of control and I woke up one day in a prison cell, with a spell of time inside ahead of me.

A prison sentence is as rehabilitative as you’re prepared to make it – and I came to my senses inside, determined to become the person I was always meant to be. I invested my time equally in university-level education, therapy to deal with childhood trauma, and personal development. It took time, but it led me towards more pro-social attitudes with confidence, and a beautiful shift in values.

After almost four years in therapy, I sat at the end of my bed with tears rolling uncontrollably down my face. They were tears of joy because for the first time in my life I felt free. Free from emotional discombobulation and pain; free from self-loathing and lost confidence. I felt transformed and knew that I was going to become a remarkable person. Could you imagine what that might have felt like?

I left that place a while ago with better mental health, hope, and determination, and with much gratitude for the organisations that had helped to set me on this new path.

Bounce Back, for example, is a charity that trains prisoners in construction skills so that they have a legitimate trade to work with when they leave prison. I chose painting and decorating even though I didn’t like it. They soon found out that I wanted to set up my own business in modular construction, which was outside their normal area. But they were unfazed and connected me with Resume Foundation whose business start-up programme gave me the grounding I needed to become an entrepreneur. I am now a proud ambassador for Bounce Back who have become great friends of mine.

During my time away, I also encountered Key4Life who helped me to build more confidence and unlock more of my childhood pain through equine therapy. Working with horses has made me a patient mentor which has been valuable as I am now mentoring several remarkable young men. Through Key4Life I was introduced to Ruebik for which I am grateful for simply being brilliant and inspiring when I later launched my business.

When I finally stepped out through the prison gates after too many years, I wondered – was this my second chance? Looking back at my childhood, I think maybe it was finally my first chance and I’m making the most of it. It feels like my life has only just begun and I’m happy with ‘better late than never’.

There is a reason why marginalised individuals are incredible in healthy, progressive environments. It’s because life has taken our motivation away and replaced it with determination. Individuals with determination do not need to be motivated, therefore you get a self-sustained and consistent individual on your team.

I have continued to live my life remarkably and with my renewed purpose, in the memory of my sister. Plans change, of course – my dream of a modular construction company became a different dream, for a community-focused health and wellbeing brand, Troothshop, which traded successfully for a while and is currently on hiatus. But the team behind Resume Foundation, which supported me into self-employment, also saw my potential and took me on as the Partnerships Manager for their other enterprise, Prosper4 Group, which runs BRIDGEOFHOPE.CAREERS.

My role here allows me the chance to channel support towards individuals like myself, but also to support the same organisations which supported me and them on our journeys of personal development. I now help over 80 charities support their ‘untapped talent’ back into meaningful employment – two of which have supported me on my journey.

Today my work is about inclusivity, and finally the world is waking up to the potential unlocked by having an inclusive team. With Bridge Of Hope, we are unleashing the hidden potential in some of the most resilient and determined individuals who have suffered and struggled with barriers from disability to discrimination.

I’ve got plenty of experience of discrimination; I’m black, over 50, with a disability and the stigma of being called an ex-offender. In my heart, I am not an ex-offender. With the work I put in on rehabilitation and personal development I feel more like a 'Returning Citizen' than anything else. I have finally become the person I was always meant to be. My life is now dedicated to supporting others and creating pathways for goodness, equality and aspiration.

It is determination that keeps us knocking at the doors. It’s time to let the rest of our human family into the arena of equal opportunity. It’s time to realise that, as Maya Angelou puts it, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Do you have marginalised talent seeking employers who want them? Check out the BridgeOfHope.Careers Portal and join us in growing an inclusive culture.
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