Before he left prison for the last time in 2014, self-confessed “career criminal” Keith Oxley had never been given a chance to make something of his life.
Put in a children’s home at 10 when his mother died, he spent the rest of his youth yo-yoing between care, offender institutions and the streets. Perhaps inevitably, he ended up on drugs and stealing to fund his consuming habit.
He had given up on ever having a normal life until he was finally offered support , importantly at a time when he was ready to accept it.
A charity helped him find stable housing on his release from HMP Doncaster last June and a month later, he was enrolled on the Government’s Work Programme, delivered in Doncaster by public services provider PeoplePlus to help support him into employment.
Now aged 43, he is working for the first time in his life as an industrial cleaner and is convinced this second chance will help him break the cycle of drugs and crime forever.
He said: “It’s the first time in my life anyone has given me a chance. When I went to PeoplePlus, I had no hope that they would be able to help me.
“But they treated me like a human being, they believed in me and made me believe I deserved a second chance. I can’t believe I have my own home and a job. I am so grateful, I am going to work so hard because I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Keith admits his crimes run into the triple figures, so high he can’t remember how many are on his record.
He said: “I committed my first offence when I was 12 and carried on offending. It was mainly shoplifting.
“I have been in at least 10 prisons and got so institutionalised that I used to feel terror when my sentence was coming to an end. I would even mess up my parole meeting so I didn’t get out early.
“Prison was easy for me. It was safer than the streets. Every time I was released, I went out to nothing – no family, no home, no job. It was the classic revolving door, crime, prison, release, drugs, crime, prison, and on it went.
“The drugs numbed the pain and fear of living on the streets. I shoplifted to pay for my drugs. I didn’t know how to stop. I am not a bad person but I never had a chance. And if somebody had offered me one, I wouldn’t have taken it anyway because I didn’t think anyone really wanted to help.”
But something changed in him last year.
He said: “I got clean of drugs in prison and decided I had to change my life now or never. “I have an 18-year-old son who I wish I could see. Thankfully he is nothing like me. He has a loving mum and a good home. “When I got out I had two dreams. I wanted somewhere to live, now I have that, and I wanted a job. I’ve got that. “I have foundations to build a life on for the first time and I have to build it from nothing.
“My street friends were the only family I had and I had to cut contact with them to avoid falling back into the old life. When I see them on the streets, I try to tell them they can change, there is help. If I can do it, you can. But you have to be ready to take the help.”
The Work Programme, which offers tailored support to help long term unemployed and those facing extra barriers to work, is available to all prison leavers on Jobseekers Allowance from day one of their release.
Keith said: “I went in to PeoplePlus as often as I could and they did everything they could for me. I had a teardrop tattooed on my face when I was a teenager – a dead giveaway of my criminal past.
“I didn’t think anyone would ever look past that. But PeoplePlus invited me to meet my new boss when he was hiring. I was fully qualified in industrial cleaning and had the CSCS card required to work on sites. The employer asked me if I had previous convictions and I thought, here we go again.
“But when I admitted I did, he said: ‘Everyone has a past and everyone deserves a second chance. I’ll give you a trial, see how you do.’ I could not believe it.”
He performed so well in his trial the employer told PeoplePlus: “If he continues to work the way he did at the weekend he will be with the company for life.”
He was offered a job and just six weeks later, is supervising new employees.
He said: “I have never had responsibility like this before. It feels great. I am happy to share my story and be honest about my past because I hope it will inspire other people like me to take the help on offer and turn their lives around. And to show employers that when you give people me like me a chance, they will reward you by being the hardest working, most loyal member of staff you have ever had.”
Mark Ole, Business Leader at PeoplePlus Doncaster, said: “It has been a massive pleasure to work with Keith. He has worked hard with us and Probation to build his skills base, his experience and his employability. He is now looking forward to building a new life away from crime. Everyone here was thrilled to see him progress into work and we wish him the very best, he deserves it.”
Now in its fifth year of operation, the Work Programme provides tailored support for jobseekers who need advice and help to undertake active and effective job-seeking.
Click here to find out more about our work to help people transform their lives for the better.