“I have a knack for sales, I’m great with people and I’m a hard worker - the only catch is that the skills that I have were perfected in the only trade I’ve properly known - as a drug dealer."

"I’m 27 and have never held down a full time job. I’ve had the odd part time job - found a day or so doing work for a friend - but my main income has always been through crime.

“I used to sell all types of things at school, from sweets to mobile phones, but then I got introduced to a way of making more money on my estate. I started selling weed and soon found I had enough money for new trainers and computer games. After quitting college, I had a job and dealt on the side. I had younger siblings and my motivation was to help at home financially. Soon I lost my job and started selling cocaine because there was a bigger profit to make, I sold to a higher class of people and it involved less activity.

“All was going quite well for me until I got involved with a local group of crack dealers; I was caught and given a three year prison sentence for attempting to supply Class A drugs. I served half the sentence and was released early for good behaviour. It has been a rocky road ever since my release, and with a criminal record I have found it almost impossible to find a solid and honest job; employers just won’t give me a chance. For five years I experienced a mixture of part-time work, looking for work and signing on, however I still remained committed to finding work. I didn't fall back into my old ways of dealing, despite the temptation, when at times it has been the only realistic option for gaining an income.

“I found out about the Resco Programme by chance; I overheard someone talking about it as I was signing on at my local Jobcentre. Desperate to try anything that would give me a chance to leave my cycle of crime, I applied for the programme, attended an interview and was soon offered a place on Resco’s 16 week programme.”

The Resco Programme is designed to support those that have been out of work the longest; people officially labelled as ‘the very long-term unemployed’. Half the participants on the programme have been held back because of their past convictions. They stumble at the first hurdle of the job application process when asked about their past, and quite simply, find that employers will never employ an ex-offender over someone with a clean record.

Through the programme, we aim to offer the long term unemployed an opportunity to prove themselves. Participants work three days a week in one of Resco’s growing businesses (currently Xylo Furniture and Chiswick Furniture Centre) showing their ability to commit to the schedule, work hard in a team and under authority, and most importantly, get some decent and relevant work experience on their CV. Resco also run training alongside the work experience (including CV writing, interview skills, QCF (City & Guilds) qualifications) and tailored one-to-one support for the participants (this could be anything from literacy and IT skills to support handling debt problems).

We asked Ben why an employer should choose him over someone with a clean record:

“I was very aware when I started the programme that I had few options ahead of me. In my mind it was either start at the bottom and work hard to prove myself – or head back to crime, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. I made it clear to the Resco team that I was not going to waste any opportunity given to me. I had a point to prove and I had ambitions and dreams.”

It didn’t take long for the Resco team to realise that Ben would show even more determination and enthusiasm if he was given the responsibility of a paid position.

Ben’s argument is that unlike someone who is expecting to be given a chance, an ex-offender has so much more to lose but also so much more to gain from this kind of opportunity - they’re not going to want to mess it up.

It is often the negative influence of past friends and associates that becomes a stumbling block to moving forward. 

Coming into a new community where the message and ethos is focused on teamwork, hard work, and aiming towards a common goal, allows participants to recognise the change in themselves and the benefits of becoming part of a healthy community.

As one of the Resco participants said,

“I had cut myself off from society because of my past; I’d become a hermit. Coming here has got me used to being back in the real world... getting out of the house, interacting with people, becoming fit and healthy, being in a normal state of mind. My family have noticed the difference in me, and can see that I’ve changed.”  

Once becoming part of Resco, participants find themselves with a group of people who love being part of a team, supporting each other and perfecting the art of asking for help when needed. And very often, their experiences are helpful to someone else within the Resco Community. 

The participants recognise the need for their lifestyle to change, and recognise the good that can come out of a hard day’s work – the team often say – “There’s only so much Jeremy Kyle a man can watch!”

Resco is running growing businesses and so the participants can also take pride and ownership in their work, whether it’s painting a piece of furniture, making a sale, or completing a list of deliveries well within the allocated time. This is a great contrast to their days wasted in unemployment.

Through our work, we hope that the men and women who commit to the Resco Programme are telling the world and prospective employers – “I’m turning away from my past, I’m showing my willingness and ability to change, and I’m positive about what the future holds.”  

Ben has now secured himself a job, working in the grounds maintenance team of a local park. It’s not a glamourous job and it’s not his dream job but it is solid, honest work. 

As he says, “I want to eventually make my parents, family and friends proud by being a success. I want to be able to look after my Mum when she's too old and capable of doing it herself. I want to show there's hope and meaning to life through hard work and honesty, because previously I haven't been in a position to do that. I'm even at the early stages of creating a website that's designed to help people with criminal convictions find work. I’m now excited by the future.”

-By Nicola Ford, Resco Programme Manager at Resco.

*Ben is not his real name and has been used to protect his identity.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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