From ‘bad boy’ to brilliant, ex-offenders in the workforce

Banged up in the U.K.

As the U.K. struggles with the rising number of young men being incarcerated within our prison system, the major problem arises with the extremely high percentage of re offending rates that leads 64% of men back to prison within the first year of being released. Combined with the constant battle of job availability, a worrying 26% find employment.

The U.K. calls for radical change in the way we treat ex-offenders, with a study finding that 60% of employers won’t even consider interviewing someone who’s just been released from prison, instantly creating difficulties and thus pathways leading back into crime. Businesses need to reconsider employing ex-offenders and noticing the skills that will change the lives of people who need it most.

Social Pantry have been employing ex-offenders for five years now and we have been working closely with charities Key4Life, Switchback, Novus and others to use food as a means to gain experience in the working world. Studies have found that having the opportunity to find work after release drastically reduces the chance of reoffending and we are very proud to help keep reducing these rates. Teaching invaluable skills is at the heart of our work with ex-offenders, we have found that once you break down the barriers that might be there you will find a hardworking and reliable member of your work force.

From ‘bad boy’ to brilliant, Kiel’s success story

Meet Kiel, from Battersea South London, who we recruited from Bad Boys Bakery in HMP Brixton.

Growing up in London’s concrete jungle isn’t easy for any youngster, and from early on Kiel soon fell into a spiral of crime and run-ins with the law. Due to difficulties at school Kiel was kicked out and sent to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) where he struggled to get his grades up and chose to rebel against the system. Like many teens, rebelling against school is normal, but growing up on estates with some of the highest levels of crime in the U.K. it was all too easy to be led along the wrong path. From the ages 18-30 Kiel ended up in and out of prison for a number of offences.

Prisons in the U.K. often set up programs for inmates to join so they can learn skills, get qualifications and experience of working life; but they are often used to keep you busy while you live out their monotonous sentence behind bars. Towards the end of Kiel’s last stint at HMP Brixton he chose to join the team at Bad Boys Bakery. Their wonderful program teaches prisoners how to bake delicious cakes, bread and other treats. As you can imagine, it’s a popular program. When working in his last week at Brixton, Social Pantry Founder and CEO, Alex Head paid the bakery a visit and met Kiel. Alex told Kiel that if he wanted a job, he was to see her as soon as he got out.

The big release date was a Monday, he saw Alex on the Thursday and was working the following Monday

Since working at Social Pantry Kiel has been an integral part of the team, starting off as kitchen porter at our lovely little Social Pantry Café he moved his way up to a trainee chef in our main event kitchen. Coming from cooking Super Noodles for dinner in his cell, Kiel has turned his life around and is now cooking up a storm for up to forty events that Social Pantry cater for weekly. We’re very proud of how much Kiel has progressed and we’re excited to see how he flourishes in 2020!

Here are some questions I asked Kiel when we caught up over a cuppa recently:

Did you have any work experience prior to working at Social Pantry?

To be honest, no. I hadn’t done a day’s work in my life before working at Social Pantry. Growing up in London it’s difficult from a young age, I was kicked out of school very early and as soon as I was in a PRU it was a struggle from there. I never considered being where I am now, but I like it, it’s given me a reason to get out of bed, learn new things and make a change for my kids.

How did you come about to apply for the job with us?

I was in my last bit of my sentence at Brixton Prison working at Bad Boys Bakery – a bakery in the prison where we cook up sweet cakes and bread all day, I loved it because it meant I could get out and do something practical while eating a bit of cake. One day a woman called Alex came into the bakery and started speaking to me about my time at Brixton. I told her I wanted to be a vet and was thinking of pursuing it once I get let out. She told me to come see her when I was released because she wanted to help me follow my goal. I left on that Monday, saw her Thursday and started work the following Monday. I was lucky to have met Alex that day.

What has been your biggest challenge since being released?

To be honest, I’ve been lucky that my journey has been smooth thanks to the fact that I was already working at Bad Boys Bakery inside and was recruited by Alex whilst I was there. This meant that I didn’t have to search for a job on release, but also that I felt confident going into the kitchen environment at Social Pantry.

What are you most proud of?

My kids, they ARE the reason why I am doing this. I want them to see a dad who is working and inspiring. I took them into the kitchen where we all work to show them around and they couldn’t believe the size of the unit. It was nice for them to see what I do and really nice to give them brownies I baked that day!

What is your favourite thing about working for Social Pantry?

They’re a great team, I’ve never felt out of place working here as if they think of me different because I have been to jail. There isn’t a stigma around me, and I am part of a great team. I also get to eat on the side, that’s also pretty alright

What’s your favourite thing you have cooked since working in hospitality?

I love a good Pecan Pie. Not just a mini one, but a big one, perfect for sharing! You could call it my signature… (Look out for a recipe coming soon)

What have you got planned for the future?

Like I said before, my main goal is to be a vet. But working at Social Pantry is and has been so good for me because I’ve learnt so much and now know what it is like to work like a normal person. It’s hard, but it’s what I’ve got to do. Working here is also allowing me to sort out how to go to the next step of being a vet. I am doing all the courses I can in my spare time but I’m also enjoying learning how to cook and how to balance family life.

If you could give any ex-offenders or current offenders any advice, what would it be?

If you’ve never worked a day in your life, try a day. I really wish I had done earlier, my life might have turned out quite differently…

What next?

Kiel has gone onto have interviews on Sky International News, Jazz FM, BBC National Radio and the internal prison radio, Straightline.

Straightline is broadcasted to every prisoner within the U.K.’s system and tells the stories of people who have been a part of the struggle, their time as an inmate and their experiences after release. Kiel had the opportunity to tell his story and this is what he had to say…

Written by Danny

If you like this blog, why not check out my blog on Redemption Roasters?