After a life largely dominated by a mix of trauma and institutionalisation, taking steps to become a functioning member of society may well be the greatest challenge John has faced so far. This is where Birmingham Changing Futures Together comes in. John was referred to the programme in May 2017 and was eligible for the ‘Beyond the Basics’ workstream.
This was set up to guide people like John, who have overcome issues around mental health, substance abuse, offending and homelessness – but struggle with the everyday things most of us take for granted, such as managing finances, building relationships and finding purpose through employment or volunteering.
He was assigned a caseworker and together they have addressed several key obstacles to John getting a job. One was the obvious challenge of how to disclose his offending to prospective employers – John, supported by Beyond the Basics, put together a letter to hand to employers at the interview stage, detailing parts of his past he was understandably worried would creep back up on him.
Beyond the Basics supported John to take the vital step of accepting and owning his past, as he forges a new life. He remarked how disclosing this information to employers early on in the process of getting a job helped his confidence.
In addition, John’s caseworker supported him to put job applications together, practice interview techniques and also provided a reference to employers. This was all completely new to John, but thanks to his own efforts and those of his caseworker, he’s just been offered paid work. Too often we expect people like John to magically transition into society with little to no help – but the reality is that the structured support offered by Birmingham Changing Futures Together and Beyond the Basics was fundamental to John securing a job.
John’s commitment to Beyond the Basics has been impressive. He had had 13 appointments so far, with a 100% attendance rate. Crucially, he’s also managed to take aspects of his prison routine and apply them in his post-prison life: “I’ve substituted what I was doing in prison into the community, I’m still mentoring, exercising, I’ve kept these parts of my routine.” Routine makes him feel comfortable and in control – and he’s using this to his advantage.
John has recently moved into his own flat. He’s also been continuing with his mentoring for the past 6 months – and has just been offered secure, paid work. “Where-ever I go, whatever I do, I always rise up. It’s nice that it’s now for something positive.”
He remarks that his story is one that you’d only see in a film – yet of course it was totally real. It’s not a story he likes to share, especially when trying to forge new relationships. “I’m in Birmingham, isolated. I don’t want to make friends, as I don’t want them to know about my past. I don’t want to tell many people about myself – I went away when I was 23 and now I’m 46(?) – I don’t want to have my naivety exploited.”
The next steps:
John comes across as rather stoic when he considers the range of challenges he’s still faced with. “I might never get over some things. They might be too deep. But that’s how it is.”
But this replaced with ambition and optimism when we turn to his future: “I’ll be thriving, I’ll have a career. Right now, when I talk to people, they tell me about their holidays, their kids, their memories. I have none of those things – what am I supposed to saw to people at the moment?” He pauses, and then says: “But in two to three years time, I’ll have memories of my own. Then, I’ll be more comfortable.”
Find out more about Birmingham Changing Futures Together here.