Twice in the space of one month have I heard from an ex-prisoner about why they went to prison and how they got themselves out of the vicious circle of ending up back in prison. The statistics for this are very high. The reason I felt compelled to write about it is because of what I learnt from it. People are products of their circumstances and situations, and they frequently have not chosen these. Every person deserves the opportunity to try to change, and listening to the two stories showed me how true this is.
The story about John McAvoy, prolific armed robber turned Ironman triathlete was the first podcast I listened to in 2020. Dr. Chatterjee interviews him and it's a podcast I highly recommend making two hours to listen to. John spent ten years in prison and he talks about why he ended up following the path that he did, and he talks about who it was that gave him that second chance to change his life. John now spends much of his time helping young people to avoid the path that their circumstances may have set out for them. It taught me that compassion and and understanding for someone's situation helps someone to feel understood and this enables change.
The second story this month was hearing from Jacob Hill. Jacob's story felt very much the opposite to John's, but yet they still ended up in the same situation. Jacob described how he started a business at university which when it started to not generate enough money and he went into debt, he sold drugs at a music festival and went to prison. He was lucky enough that his family supported him throughout, and now he has started a business called Offploy which educates employers about hiring ex-offenders, and helps ex-offenders to get into the work place. This results in a lower chance of someone returning to prison.
This got me thinking about business and how we hire and manage our people. When businesses hire, we are often surrounded by unconscious biases and how easy it is to choose the 'safe' option of someone having done the job before, versus the risk of taking someone on who hasn't done the job before. The former is safer, but sometimes the safety doesn't bring innovation. It's not to say that every business would be able to hire someone like Jacob. But it does remind us that we should treat everyone as a human being. And by offering compassion and listening, we can help enable someone to make changes.
Podcast If This Man Can Turn His Life Around, So Can You with John McAvoy