'I went back to prison to quiz the Justice Secretary'
By Nnamdi Efobi
If you truly want a prisoner to reform and prepare for life outside, how are you reflecting today’s society in prison?
A lot of people say the future’s bright but I wouldn’t have believed I’d be where I am now. I came out of HMP Isis at the start of the year and went straight into employment. I’m now working as an Account Executive at MegaNexus, a company which provides digital services, including the prison intranet ‘Virtual Campus’, in prisons across the UK. Earlier this month, I was also elected to the new steering committee of the Prisoner Learning Alliance (PLA), helping to provide expertise to inform the future of prison education.
With all these different hats on, I was interested to see what direction the Ministry of Justice would take with the new Education and Employment strategy, so I was really pleased to be invited to hear the Justice Secretary David Gauke launch the report in person.
The thing that excites me most about the new strategy is the role of businesses. It gives me hope when I hear about organisations that are keen and willing to employ people with convictions, who consider it their responsibility to give people a second chance. Former prisoners are human beings just like anybody else, so why not give them an opportunity? They are loyal and hungry; they’ve got talent and so many skills. They want to prove to themselves and the community that they’re an asset, so let them feel part of society and give them the opportunity. They want to change.
Organisations that want to get into prison can face a mountain of barriers before they’re able to help
I was glad to hear the Justice Secretary announce that they are looking at making the process of employing former prisoners easier for employers through incentives like a National Insurance holiday. I was keen, however, to follow up with the Justice Secretary on the role of employers inside prison. Organisations that want to get into prison can face a mountain of barriers before they’re able to raise their profile with prisoners and help prepare them for the world of work. I wanted to know what steps the government will take to ensure these barriers are removed, or at the very least reduced.
As a keen advocate of using technology to broaden education opportunities, I also asked the Justice Secretary what the government is doing to make prison more modern and up-to-date. If you truly want a prisoner to reform and prepare for life outside, how are you reflecting today’s society in prison?
The Justice Secretary acknowledged the importance of digitisation and the crucial role employers can play. But we will have to wait and see whether he gets the financial backing he needs to see these ambitions through.
There were other announcements to feel optimistic about too. I was pleased to hear the Justice Secretary talk about the opportunities Brexit will afford to prisoners coming out and looking for jobs. He indicated that spaces will potentially open up in the job market, meaning more opportunities for former prisoners to find work. I’m also excited about the potential of plans to tailor training in prison around the jobs available in the local labour market.
Going back into Isis just a few months after my release was truly overwhelming and somewhat surreal.
On a personal level, it is difficult to articulate how much the day meant to me. Going back into Isis just a few months after my release was truly overwhelming and somewhat surreal. It is certainly an important chapter in my journey and a very symbolic day. It was a brilliant opportunity too: seeing the governor, officers, librarians and men I was inside with – I could show them what I’ve learned and how I’ve used that to shape my experience. I’m wearing a suit now, not prison clothes.
Events like this demonstrate how important the user voice can be in shaping change. I always introduce myself as an ex-offender and I’m not afraid to ask questions – it’s better to be a fool for a second than a fool for life. My story is fresh and raw and people appreciate that. People with lived experience can bring something rich and unique to discussions around improving the Criminal Justice System. I can give my lens and my insight into what works and what doesn’t, and give a voice to prisoners’ experiences.
As a new member of the PLA’s steering committee and an ambassador for the Alliance, I watched the day’s announcements with an eagle eye – absorbing everything I heard so that we can make things better for people. It was good to see that everyone was singing from the same hymn book, but I’ll be watching closely to ensure that these plans become a reality.