Jacob Hill set up his business The Lazy Camper at just 18 whilst studying for a degree. However, after it ran into financial difficulties, he resorted to selling drugs at a music festival.
Caught, convicted and sentenced to 28 months he was determined to use the 10 of them he served in custody as a way of helping others. After training as a Peer Advisor through West Yorkshire CRC he has now established his own socially-minded company Offploy helping ex-offenders into employment.
“It was my first time in prison. I was put in a cell with a serious criminal – a major drug dealer who was doing a long sentence and thinking “this could have been me if things had carried on and gone the wrong way”. I had a complete sense of hopelessness – but relief as well as I was actually paying back my debt to society.
“In prison, I was sewing boxer shorts – around 160 pairs a day! I’d heard about St Giles Trust’s work in HMP Wealstun and applied to become a Peer Advisor in there. The first application I put in got lost in the system but I pursued it and submitted another one. And I’m really glad I did.
“Being a peer advisor is the best way to help other prisoners and start the healing process. You are able to do something with real responsibility and help other lads. It gave me confidence as I had a purpose, a role and a reason to wake up every day. I loved my job because I was able to help so many lads.
“Ex-offenders are probably the most experienced people to work with prisoners. They are massively under-utilised. The Peer Advisors broke down the barriers between the prisoners and the staff.
“St Giles Trust selects the right people. The Peer Advisors are always very professional – we don’t gossip – and we’re full of knowledge. We know so much about housing and resettlement and it enables lads to come forward and talk to us. Prisoners understand each other’s language.
“We know so much about housing and resettlement and it enables lads to come forward and talk to us. Prisoners understand each other’s language”
“Studying for the IAG course itself was ironic as I thought my studying days were over. I’d just finished my degree before I went into prison and got my graduation certificate on 17 July. I then started training as a Peer Advisor in August. At times it felt a bit like being back at Uni again up doing an all-nighter of swotting. All the Peer Advisors would sit there together concentrating hard and writing up our reports.
“When I went into prison I thought it would be really violent. But what I found were lads with low self esteem who thought they were worthless. They wanted to earn an honest graft but most of them thought this was a myth because of their criminal records. I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and say “You can do this, you’re good enough!”
“Since I’ve been released on Home Detention Curfew, I’ve set up my own socially focussed company Offploy working with large companies to support their ex-offender hiring process. We’re lucky enough to have a private backer which has given us enough funding for the first year. I’ll be totally honest and say that – as an ex-offender myself – not all ex-offenders are ready for work and many need support to get to this stage. But the amount of support that is available to employers is mind-boggling if they know how to access it.
“Everyone benefits from employing ex-offenders. Society benefits through reduced re-offending. Employers will find that ex-offenders will be loyal, talented and motivated. And it gives the individual a sense of value and means to provide for their family.
“Employers should adopt a transparent hiring process as ex-offenders assume their application will automatically get rejected if they declare their offence. Also, if they are looking to do it seriously or on a scale it is best to go through an agency or organisation with the expertise to support them.
“But the most important thing for an employer is to be proud of hiring ex-offenders. It is one of the most decent things you can do. You are not only giving them a job – you are giving their family a future as well.”