I had no idea you could work full-time in prison until I did it myself.

Published on : 3/6/23
  • Sodexo has launched Starting Fresh, a campaign to encourage and provide guidance to businesses on proactively hiring ex-offenders. To support this activity, Susan was generous enough to share her own experience of gaining skills in prison which have led to a new career after release.

    My partner and I got into debt with the wrong people and made a bad choice to try and pay it off. One minute I was a dinner lady and then next I was in prison, aged 40. With two young kids, it was heartbreaking. But fast forward to today and we’re still together, our kids are doing great and we’re both still working hard, as we always did. 

    I served my sentence in four different prisons and took every chance I could to improve my skills. I got my Level 1 and 2 in Maths and English and then helped in a ‘first night’ centre, mentoring new arrivals. I worked in a prison restaurant, in a prison call centre, and visited schools all over the country with an outreach charity.

    Having a purpose has always been really important to me. What’s the point of wasting your time? 

    I was used to hard work, but when you’re released on temporary license and get to do it outside of the prison gates it makes a massive difference to your mindset. For 18 months, I would leave prison at 5.30am for a 40-minute walk to catch my bus, work 8am-4pm as a cleaner and then do the same journey in reverse. They were really long days, but at lunchtime I’d be queueing up in Asda to buy a sandwich like everyone else. That little bit of independence felt like one step closer to normal life. It actually turned out to be a big step closer, as I kept that job when I was released.  

    You probably think you’re not the prison type, but there’s no such thing. I guarantee you’d meet people exactly like you – people who are taking every opportunity they can to make a better life for their families.

    You may have bumped into someone today who’ll be going ‘home’ to prison once they’ve finished their shift. It’s just impossible to tell, which is kind of my point.  

    I now work as a cleaner for Sodexo at a big government office, although it was just a building site when I started. I’ve been here for years, and my criminal record was never an issue.

    What matters is that I’m good at my job and work hard at it.

    I’m more confident talking about my past than many other people. Perhaps that’s my age. But in my experience, there are plenty of employers out there who will put their trust in ex-offenders. And there’s plenty of former offenders ready to do great work. We just need to find a way of joining more of them together.    

    Whether you want to visit a prison to see the skills training in action, organise an employer day to recruit a number of people - you can find out more about Starting Fresh here.