Why, do people offend? It varies, sometimes it is for money, sometimes for power and status, often it is for drugs but sometimes people just get themselves in to a situation they don’t know the way out of. Sometimes it is a combination of all of the things I’ve mentioned. In the years in which CLI has been operating I’ve met first time offenders, people who have been offending for thirty years or more and everything in between. Their offences have varied from the relatively minor like shoplifting and fraud to armed robbery or section 18. If you come in to this line of work with a view of what your average offender will be like it will almost certainly be shattered. There is no “average offender”, people from all walks of life find themselves in the criminal justice system.
Where you do find common ground is in what makes someone stop offending. In short it’s the hope of living a good life away from crime. A life that is better than the one you led when you were offending. The problem is that this sometimes feels so far out of reach that we convince ourselves not to bother trying. From personal experience I can tell you this is something that is not unique to prolific offenders, the challenge is there for anyone who has been convicted of an offence.
I remember asking myself who’d look past my theft conviction, thinking it would always be easier for employers to just not take the risk. Some days the fear drove me on, I was determined to take action before it got too late. Other days the fear paralysed me and I would just isolate myself and worry. I’d panic, the types of jobs that didn’t check criminal records and references didn’t suit me. I tried one and lasted about four days and I felt like a total failure.
Eventually I found my focus, it was mentoring. I wanted to make sure that the next person that was going through this process had the support they needed. It was the right fit for me and my personality and it gave me hope, focus and determination. I have faith that there is something for every ex-offender who has genuinely reached the point where they have had enough. The mentors role is to help them realise this as quickly as possible, to get there before that determination waivers.
Strengths based services are crucial in giving people this hope, we need to provide people with a space in which they can be someone else. Where they can focus on the future rather than the past. A mentor can help someone realise that you can enjoy the company of someone who doesn’t offend or use drugs and that is also key to believing that a different life is possible.