Battling housing issues for Reese

A Fairer Chance first mReeseet Reese at a jobs fair in HMP/YOI Isis in September 2014, as he was reaching the end of a combined sentence of over two years. This was his second time in prison. In his own words, serving his first sentence was, “like youth camp”, but the second, “like hell”. Having lost control of his life, he decided to stop smoking cannabis and sought guidance within the prison to find out how he could start a career on release. His dream was to become a work advisor and mentor, building on an Information, Advice and Guidance qualification, but when he sought guidance from advisors working inside the prison, he was advised this wasn’t an option due to his criminal record.

Reese had very little confidence that he could act on his dreams once he left prison for the second time. He was enrolled on a mentoring scheme, which arranged for Reese to start work as a kitchen porter. With no fixed address, Reese starting working 13-14 hour shifts, six days a week, with 4.5 hours travel each day, making minimum wage: just enough to cover his living costs, with very little left to spare. His “sofa-surfing” sleeping arrangements were at the mercy of other people’s schedules. Reese quickly started to look for a better role. He faced months of limbo, facing rejections for more minimum wage positions, and eventually, after a couple of months, stopped the unsustainable kitchen porter role.

Reese was referred to us and he met with Maggie, Director at A Fairer Chance. He explained his career aspirations and she was only too happy to contradict the information he had received in prison. Convictions aren’t necessarily a barrier, and ex-offenders can and often do become excellent role models and mentors to help others in a similar situation turn their lives around. Given the nature of our work, Maggie saw an opportunity to help Reese, arranging for him to come and shadow her for a day as she met with a new employer. He describes this day as a huge boost to his confidence. Having been prepared beforehand by Maggie to know what to expect on the day, at the end of the meeting, Maggie asked him if there was anything he would like to add. This prompted a fruitful conversation, where Reese did a fantastic job of engaging the employer with his experience and views.

Reese has now embarked on eight weeks of work experience with A Fairer Chance, working three or four days a week, spending some time shadowing staff. He has attended jobs fairs in prisons and recalls with delight the first person he helped into work – a young man who he had been his neighbour inside the prison. He recalls thinking he was more excited than the candidate at hearing the good news. He is now able to think of himself as a Work Advisor, a realisation which came home to him one day conducting assessments with a room full of candidates. In their eyes he was a professional, carrying out his work, not an ‘ex-offender’. He has a routine, plans his weeks ahead and enjoys his work.

He has his own accommodation now, too. Maggie and Rozie helped Reese apply for housing in a charity hostel in London, and appealed the initial decision rejecting his application. Within a fortnight of the appeal, a delighted Reese moved into his own place. He describes the support he has received from A Fairer Chance as being, “physical, psychological and financial”.

Whilst Reese’s situation keeps improving in terms of housing, work and most importantly perhaps, his self-esteem and confidence, there remain challenges ahead: his housing will rise from a nominal rent up to £280 per week, should he start to work any number of paid hours of work, and his work experience will come to an end after the eight weeks are up. We are doing all we can to research and explore sustainable routes forward, that will allow Reese to follow his career goals and keep a place to live.