I've long felt that no one should be judged by the worst moment in their lives, and so we’ve always encouraged our businesses to find ways of training and employing people who have been released from prison.
In England and Wales, nearly 50 per cent of people reoffend within a year of being released from prison and we know that employment is essential to keep people out of trouble. In the Virgin Group, Virgin Trains (west coast) are pioneering the hiring of ex-offenders, with 25 people now working in different parts of the company. That’s 25 people who’ve been given a second chance in life, with vastly better odds of never committing a crime again.
Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with two wonderful members of the Virgin family who have struggled with the law in the past, but are determined and committed to turn their lives around.
Tammy Moreton is a good example of what a difference a job can make in an ex-offender’s life. When she was around 18 years old, Tammy “hung around with the wrong crowd”, as she puts it. She spent the next two years in and out of custody for various offences.
Upon leaving prison, Tammy sought help from a great charity called New Leaf who connect ex-offenders with mentors to get a head start into life. Soon after, the Prince’s Trust helped her start work experience with Virgin Trains and she was quickly offered an apprenticeship with the revenue protection team.
Tammy has been with Virgin Trains for 18 months now, and her manager is her biggest cheerleader, praising how she has grown into her role. And indeed, the lovely young lady I met on a rainy morning at London’s Euston Station was full of hope about the new stability in her life and grateful for having been given a second chance. And better yet, Tammy is now training to mentor other offenders so they can escape the vicious cycle and find employment.
A different story is that of Jacob Hill. Jacob was once a promising young entrepreneur, who reached the finals of our Pitch to Rich (VOOM) competition and acted as an Ambassador for the Virgin Media Business Pioneers scheme. His company, Lazy Camper, sold camping kits to festival goers – an ingenious idea that got a lot of attention. But before he knew it, Jacob found himself stranded with a whole load of debt he couldn’t repay. In these kinds of existential situations, people often make bad decisions (I have, so I should know), and Jacob’s bad decision was to supplement his income with the sale of Ecstasy and Cannabis.
At Leeds Festival, he tried to sell his drugs to security guards and was quickly arrested, detained and charged with some pretty serious offences. The court didn’t show much mercy, handing down a 28-month prison term. I can’t help but wonder what societal interest is served by imposing such a long sentence on a young man without prior convictions and a good amount of remorse. But if you ask Jacob, he will tell you that going to prison was actually the best thing that could have happened to him, as it allowed him to completely re-evaluate his life and focus on the things that are really important. After serving 294 days, he is now out of prison with an ankle bracelet, full of energy and determined to make right on his wrongs. When we met, he told me about his plans to set up a business helping companies hire ex-offenders. A gifted writer, Jacob is also sharing his experiences on his blog.
Tammy and Jacob are just two examples of many. If we are serious about reducing reoffending, we must allow people to move on from their past deeds and provide the second chances everyone deserves.
Learn more about Virgin Trains’ ex-offender employment programme.