The Prison Opticians Trust is proud to be supporting ex-offenders in their re-integration into society upon release from prison. Read what some of our former and current trainees had to say about their experience of the program…
Stories From Our Trainees
Former Lab Trainee
“I discovered The Prison Opticians Trust through inmates of mine who had done the program themselves. I decided I wanted an opportunity to learn new skills that would eventually be transferable to the outside world. The Trust not only gave me that opportunity, but also cemented my acknowledgement of the mistakes I’ve made and strengthened my resolve to reintegrate back into society. Furthermore, The Prison Opticians Trust has also given me ideas as to my own business ventures going forward, which I’m greatly looking forward to realizing.”
So where do I start? I lived a life of crime, thought I was untouchable, I was feared and in the end, I got a massive wake up call that not only opened my eyes to the destruction that I had caused but put me on a path that I see only lies with success and fulfilment.
Yes, I went to prison and I’m glad as if I hadn’t I would still be on that destructive path. During my time in prison, I owed it to everyone around me and myself to change my life around.
I was fortunate as I chose to go to certain establishments that have me that opportunity and that’s where I was introduced to the idea of getting into optics. Never in a million years would I have thought I would do something like this let alone actually enjoy it.
I was introduced to the team at Pen Optical and from there I started my journey. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but is it ever? To achieve great things you have to overcome a few hurdles. The course was great and gave me an insight into the numerous opportunities that were open to me in the future.
I really enjoyed the subject material based upon the anatomy of the eye, which has stuck with me till today. Fast forward to my release. I struggled to find a job. 152 C.V’s later and I ended up walking into my local Specsavers and telling them who I was and where I wanted to be.
Fortunately for me, the store director had heard great things about Pen Optical and basically wanted me to start straight away. Again fast forward 18 months and I’m still with Specsavers. I’m a senior lab technician and I run the lab with another colleague.
My path and future are set. I know where I want to be in the next few years and with my director’s support I am on my way to achieving that honourable goal. I enjoy life and I’m happy. So a big thank you to Tanjit and the Pen Optical team that helped me get here.
It’s a life worth fighting for and an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe one day soon I will be able to give something back to Pen Optical and show my appreciation?
I was a successful Project Manager and PA with over 25 years experience in administration within project-based environments across a wide range of industries including construction and design.
In 2015 I was arrested for fraud, and after two years on bail, I was convicted of fraud against an employer and abuse of trust. My original sentence was a suspended sentence, with 100-hour community service and a charge to pay my victim £40,000. I completed the community service but was unable to raise the funds. Failure to pay the charge resulted in a fifteen-month custodial sentence for contempt of court. Of which I served half.
I started my sentence in Bronzefield, terrified for the next eight months and not even thinking about the effect my sentence would have on my future. Whilst in Bronzefield I don’t think I once considered life beyond my sentence. All my energies were used on survival in the most horrific of situations, in an environment that you cannot begin to imagine. You have to live it to begin to understand the enormity of it and the massive effect the experience has on a person.
As my sentence was non-violent and low risk, I was eligible to move to Open Prison. I moved to East Sutton Park within a month of commencing my sentence. Open Prison is a completely different experience to Closed. It is all about rehabilitation and life after Prison. This is where the realisation of the damage my custodial sentence would have on my career hit home. It becomes apparent very quickly that a job as a project manager was no longer an option for me. I would have to declare my sentence when applying for work and due to the nature of my offences a job where I would need to be trusted with financial responsibility.
ESP is a working Prison, so you have to work whilst there as part of your rehabilitation. I chose a job on the farm and between my shifts on the farm and the education program at ESP, this is how I spent my days. Neither the farm experience nor basic educational qualifications I was taking were giving me a foundation for new employment opportunities when I left.
ESP held job fairs regularly where you could meet potential employers and external companies that offered training and help in finding work. I met Tanjit at one of these events and after talking with him about his training program, I applied for a place. I had to sit an interview and thankfully was accepted. This was the first time I felt I may have a future.
I had never considered optics as a career and to be honest if my life had not taken this path I most probably never would have, but it was the perfect fit, from the first day I enjoyed the course work and seemed to have a natural understanding of the subject. The course took place in Maidstone so I was able to leave Prison on licence during the working day and return back at the end of the day. The course started to raise my confidence in myself and my future. As I passed exams and gained knowledge I felt that this was the one good thing to come out of my custodial sentence. Not only did the course get me out of the Prison environment during the working day but it also filled all my time when back in the evening and weekends revising and learning. I was proud of what I was achieving in a situation where there was very little to feel proud about.
The course went really well for me, it is so informative and the trainer was amazing at engaging everyone on the course no matter their level of understanding. It is packed with practical exercises, as well as the written element. I gained the knowledge and confidence to seriously consider working as an optical assistant in the real world. I actually looked forward to every day I attended.
At the end of the course, Tanjit helped me to approach potential employers. He assisted with my covering letters and CV and made me feel completely supported. Thanks to this amazing opportunity I started my first job employed as an Optical Assistant two days after my release from Prison.
Twenty months on I am still working in optometry, I am at a practice closer to home now and loving my job. I have completed my cert 3 qualification in dispensing and commence my cert 4 in September. My employers are aware of my conviction and are amazingly supportive. My performance at work is what I am measured by and not my history.
Without the Prison Opticians Trust, I don’t know what my life would look like now. They gave me the opportunity to learn a new skill, which has secured a solid future for me. It has allowed me to continue my education, improve my prospects and progress in ophthalmology. I am able to support myself and plan for my future. I plan to continue with my exams and see where it takes me.
Life was grim before my arrest.
It was a dark place where I was trapped in a whirlwind of lies, deceit and abuse.
Endless times i prayed for a way out, but just didn’t know how to achieve this. I was helpless having distanced myself from my friends and family. I was an embarrassment. I had no confidence and I scraped myself through each day ignoring the past and the then present.
My arrest came as a shock, a horrible court case and then an initial sentence at one of the most notorious women’s estate prisons in England. This was an eye opener. I was amongst people who liked the prison community life, they shared banter with their fellow prisoners, shared stories on how whatever their present life was, was humouring them, they shared stories on how they managed to get high in their cell the night before smoking or ingesting anything they could get their hands on.
This was not for me.
I was reassured by my case worker that I’d only be kept here a few weeks and that i should apply to be released into an open prison. I preyed and cried every night, hoping my mum would pull through this ordeal. This was terrifying. I was soon sent to East Sutton Park.
God answering my prayers. A place where women could rehabilitate, restructure their lives and work in resettling back into everyday life. I remember getting out the van at the gates to esp to a team of happy looking officers. I could see a farm, blue skies an open space. I was very very grateful. My time here was going to be a few months andIt wasn’t long before I’d enrolled myself in every programme possible to reform myself and better my chances on release.
One of the posters I came across was for PenOptical. To train and learn to be an optical assistant. I had spent 2 weeks in the class A prison where we were limited to minimal natural light and I could feel my eyes suffering.
So what was PenOptical? It was a fantastic opportunity to work hard, challenge myself and gain skills which would help launch me into a new career path upon release from esp. My interview with the directors was successful and I was offered a place on this training programme. I knew at this point there was no turning back and once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only place you can go is up.
I remember reading the prospectus and thinking I wanted to be some sort of optician. I wanted to help people who were struggling with their vision. The course was immense and intense. I had The option to kick myself into full speed and cram it all in in a much shorter timescale than usual. But I was committed. My life changed from the moment I started with PenOptical. I had focus and meaning. I also had confidence and believed in myself.
Now, having passed the PenOptical programme with high pass marks, I’m working full time in a local optician and studying to qualify towards becoming a contact lens optician. I wake up each morning feeling fresh, light on my feet, clear-minded and very very grateful.
Anyone can make the change, you just have to commit yourself to do this for yourself, no one is going to do it for you…
I spent my teenage years tangled up in a life of crime and had been to prison before.
My most recent offence saw me imprisoned for a much longer sentence of 4.5 years and it was then I knew things had to change. The birth of my children was a wake up call.
My mindset switched and I wanted to learn something new to help me focus and to occupy my time in prison with something meaningful. I applied for a place on the training course at the Prison Opticians Trust and was successful. The work was challenging and interesting.
After four weeks I was offered a work placement at a high street Opticians. Fast forward six weeks and I have now been offered a permanent position.
I cannot thank the Prison Opticians Trust enough for giving me an opportunity to find work in a profession I had never considered. This experience has shown me that if I put in the work and change my mentality I can do things I never thought possible. I am going to make my children proud.
Jail: A Poem
Being in jail is lonely at night
It’s waiting for letters that no one will write
It’s depending on people you thought were your friends
But they fail to come through again and again.
It’s sitting around with nothing to do
Trying to figure out just who is who
It’s finding out that hearts are made of stone
And realising that you are all alone.
It’s waiting for visits that never take place
From so-called friends who’ve forgotten your face
It’s wondering why time seems to move so slow
And every dream you have has no place to go.
Therefore I’ll do my time with my head held high
And keep my integrity and pride until the day I die
The day will come when I am free
And it will be my turn to forget those who forgot me.
I left home at a young age in search of a better life, only to find that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. I guess for many young people there are hopes for them to try and achieve something for their life, whereas in many cases they try so hard until they find themselves falling on the wrong side of the law.
It was a difficult journey to travel at such a young age, especially when you are on your own and have no one that you can trust to mentor you along the way. I see this is still happening with many unaccompanied young people, where they leave their troubled home place for a better life only to find that it wasn’t as promising as it appeared in their thoughts.
I came across many ups and downs regarding careers and living conditions, until I found myself on the wrong side of the law. At first I thought it was going to be just for a short period until I had to close some of my financial concerns, but I soon found that I was glued to the system where I could see no easy way out of it.
Once I went inside I found myself in a very difficult position, I had committed an act that was unnecessary for me to do. At this time my main concern was my family, as they knew nothing about what I was involved in.
At that time I would have done anything possible to turn my time back and do things differently, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead of me being negative about what had happened, I put a plan of action in place. During the time I was going to spend inside I had to spend that time in the most productive way possible. As I started my sentence and I knew it was going to be a while, there was plenty of time for me to do productive work, so I started with my basic studies. I had some good teachers, where even if I had studied outside…which I never did after the age of 13 up till 32, I believe that there wouldn’t have been any better teachers to mentor me through the studies.
During this time I got many qualifications and learned a lot from these studies.
I had the last year of my 6 year sentence that was coming to be sent on to an open condition environment, this was achieved through good behaviour, hard work and commitment towards my goals. In open conditions I had a choice of going to work or gain further studies and training. I thought I still had a bit more time so I decided to go for further study and hopefully get some benefit out of it.
I was given the opportunity to learn about Optometry, at first I thought “let’s give it a try and see if I could get anything out of it” I never thought I would have progressed as far as I have, but believing in myself and with the great help from my Just Specs mentors I managed not only learning about optometry, but having a great career as a Lab Manager.
It has been a long journey, but I believe I can say that with everyone, if you want to achieve a goal you have to set a plan for yourself and move forward in life. There is no one to blame for your actions, except blaming yourself, so instead of blaming yourself, make up for it and put some good work in to practice, don’t just sit and wait for the next wrong move you are going to make in your life and see the same circle until you find out that it’s is too late to do anything good with your life anymore
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