This is the twelfth in a series of guest posts written by ex-offenders who have turned their lives around and now work, in one way or another, in the criminal justice sector. Gethin Jones writes about his long journey away from a life in care and prison to setting up his own business as a motivational speaker.
My name is Gethin Jones and as I write this I am a 46 year old man that runs his own business. This is a new venture as up until last year I had as successful career within Portsmouth City council. Within the council, I managed a young person’s service that focused on young people who were at risk of entering the criminal justice system. I also managed the Alcohol Intervention Team that supported increasing drinking, heavy drinking and dependent drinking clients. My last role was as a service manager overseeing a staff team of 40 that looked at reducing health inequalities to the most deprived areas of the city. To put this into context I need to tell you about my life post 2006.
Product of the system
I once described myself as a product of the system and have said that the first 35 years of my life can be found in a filing cabinet. My family was involved with social care from the day I was born as my mum was a care leaver, had some learning difficulties and was a single parent with 4 children. In today’s language I was born into a dysfunctional family.
In hindsight, I see that due to my Mum’s situation she was unable to give me the nurture that is needed for a child to develop. Due to not connecting with my Mum, I developed an attachment disorder and this led me to respond negatively within my family environment. My behaviour was very erratic and this led me to becoming involved with the criminal justice system at a young age, my first conviction was in 1982 when I was 11 years old.
My behaviour continued to deteriorate and I received a care order at 12, expelled from School at 13, and my first custodial sentence at 14, secure units at 15 and another custodial at 15… Bye bye childhood. During my early development and my teenage years, I was continually told:
“you’re naughty, you will never achieve, you will end up in prison, you will become a drug addict.”
I believe this helped me create a self-foreseeing prophecy that drove me for over 20 years.
Looking back I can never once remember any professional sitting me down and explaining the reason why I was behaving as I was, I never once saw a child psychiatrist or was offered any counselling. What I did get was continuous consequences for my behaviour that further separated me from society which led to a belief that I could not trust anyone and that I did not want to be a part of this so-called society.
This way of thinking created a criminal record of 56 offences and 18 convictions, in total I spent over 8 years of my life behind a prison wall. I also became a dependent heroin user, destroyed every meaningful relationship I had, my child being adopted, spending time in homeless hostels, squats and the streets.
Change for me
Something changed and you can see that by the beginning paragraph in which I share about how I became an asset within my community. I have always said that it was not the system that rehabilitated me, it was the individuals who worked within it. These individuals treated me as a human being and would give me messages of hope that enabled me to make significant changes.
In 2000 I received a prison sentence of 4 years and at that point I believed that my life would never be more than a bag of gear, a prison cell and a council estate. The individuals I met during that sentence treated me with respect and care, I was a cornered animal and my soul was dying, these individuals treated me as human being and nurtured me back to life. When I left that sentence I still had some way to go but I had started to trust so engaged with services within my community.My whole rehabilitation journey took 6 years and it was a mixture of support from professionals within both the criminal justice and voluntary services. These individuals and services supported me to become the person I am today.
Change for the system
If I had a magic wand I would focus it on reducing the prison population and increasing the ratio of staff to inmates. I would also look to create smaller prisons or units within prisons so that human relationships between staff and inmates can develop which I believe is the key to supporting changes in behaviour and belief systems. I would also look at joining up community provisions so the journey has real meaning and purpose. An inmate does not just need a job to change, they need accommodation, a mentor and a job.
Any less than this and it’s highly unlikely most people will change.
As I said at the beginning I now have my own business: Gethin Jones “Unlocking potential” and I am an Inspirational speaker, trainer and coach. I have great plans for this business as I want to be able to scale it up and generate an income so that I can create Community Interest Companies that will sit alongside the limited business. I intend to support these with money from my limited company and create meaningful services for ex-offenders. Because I am generating my own money I will not be looking for government funding as I do not want the bureaucracy that comes with government contracts and gets in the way of delivering what is needed.
See Gethin talk about “Unlocking Potential”: