18-year old Dixon was facing his first weeks out of prison homeless and alone. His life was also potentially in serious danger as old gang associates had previously tried to stab him and run him over numerous times. Luckily, he was referred to St Giles Trust and we took swift action to help him get housed and stay safe. Dixon’s previous involvement in gangs had been prolific. He was deeply distrusting of authorities and thus difficult to engage. However, our SOS Caseworker – himself a reformed former gang member - patiently and persistently worked with Dixon to address his needs and encourage him to engage with the authorities with our support. His most urgent issue was housing so we approached a local authority well away from his home area with supporting letters from his probation officer, the police and medical reports. They offered Dixon a hostel place. With his housing situation stabilised, the next step was to find him work and Dixon was interested in training and working as a plumber. His caseworker researched available courses which were near his hostel and as result he secured a place on a plumbing course and is now approaching the end of his first year. Dixon is very much enjoying his course and this is crucial as it keeps him occupied during the day and focussed on a crime-free future. It also had the added benefit of helping Dixon meet new friends from college who are a positive influence. His attitude to life is now completely changed and his outlook matured. From being a persistent offender, he has not re-offended since his release from prison in July 2013.
Joy came into contact with our Choices project after attending a motivational workshop we ran in her hostel. Her confidence was rock bottom after a family break up left her homeless. Still young, she was struggling to see how she could rebuild her life and find a challenging and fulfilling start to a career. She was very passionate about clothing and fashion, and regularly designed and made her own clothes. She had been out of education for a while and knew she did not want to return. Our Choices caseworker helped her find a work placement with a textile design agency and she started to use her creative talents to make prints. With our support she took up an internship with a fashion PR agency, which really boosted her confidence as she had to take on a lot of responsibility and represent the firm at public events. Whilst Joy took part in her work placements she met her caseworker at least once a week to apply for fashion industry apprenticeships. These roles were very competitive and Joy went for several interviews which she was unsuccessful for. This was a risky time as her background meant she could easily get demotivated and disengage. But the Choices team kept her motivated through interview coaching and personal support, and kept sourcing new vacancies for her to keep her hopes up. Eventually we found an apprenticeship with a top London theatre as a wardrobe assistant. Joy really impressed at the interview and was offered the role immediately and has been in the job ever since. She designed costumes on many productions and has worked with prestigious companies including the Royal Opera House. Joy has also moved into her own accommodation and is living an independent life.
With seven previous sentences and umpteen remands under his belt, 39-year old Lee Dutton might not be at the top of every employer’s shortlist. However, having qualified as a Peer Advisor, he is now a vital member of our Cardiff team. “I started committing crime at 17 and was in that spiral for 20 years,” explains Lee. Family breakdown meant that Lee entered the care system – in common with nearly a quarter of the prison population – and it was at this point he drifted into petty crime. “It was mainly joy riding and then progressed to ram raiding.” Drawing his first custodial sentence at 17 for stealing a car, Lee never received any proper support on release to help him with basics such as finding somewhere to live and help finding work or training.
“You just got on with it yourself,” he says. “You’d doss here, there and everywhere, get into a relationship perhaps.”
Twenty years of crime and custody were to follow with Lee ending up back where he started at the end of each sentence.
“At those times my life was drugs, drink and crime. Getting arrested was an occupational hazard.”
It was during his last four-year sentence that he started to realise that his worsening drug use was the reason behind much of his crime. The strain it was placing on his marriage gave Lee the added spur he needed to finally sort himself out. On release from his last sentence, he found work with GrEW (Grow Enterprise Wales) and discovered a vocation for helping people who had the same experiences as him. He got in touch with St Giles Trust so he could embark on our community-based Peer Advisor course offered at our Cardiff office. After completing, he successfully applied for a job as a Through the Gates Caseworker. “All the negativity of 20 years I’ve now turned into one big positive,” says Lee. “Guys I’m picking up from prison can relate to me and they know exactly where I’m coming from. I’ve been there, done it and got the T shirt.” Lee has no fears about returning to his old ways. “I’ve got a new career path and a focus to succeed. Work is my addiction and buzz now. I got loads of support from my manager and the team. I’ve been open about my past from the day of my interview.” These changes have improved other areas of his life. “My relationship with my wife is the best it has ever been and we’ve moved out of the old area.” Lee has now progressed further and works as a caseworker on our Gamechangers Team in Cardiff, providing support to heavily disadvantaged families. Lee’s old life is looking firmly in the past. However, it’s one he’s not going to shy away from at St Giles Trust.
“I’m not ashamed of my past - it’s what makes me good at my job.”