Inside Job in Operation

First Interview Surgery at HMP Hewell - by Sarah Inglis

It’s been a bit tight lipped on the blog recently regarding Inside Job – but not for lack of content – in fact, the team has been extremely busy behind the scenes getting it up and running post-lockdown. After 12 months operating outside prison (candidates finding us, rather than the other way round), in April, we were allowed to run Inside Job as we originally envisaged: bringing employers into prison to interview candidates found and prepared by our Inside Job Reps.

This week, Heather, Bally and I went to HMP Hewell with McGinley to run our first ever Interview Surgery at the prison. Our two newly appointed Inside Job Reps, Andrew* and Ali*, who are still serving their sentences, have been trained as In-Prison Recruitment Consultants by the brilliant Phil Martin, founder of Ex-seed, an employment agency for ex-offenders. Phil ran an employment desk in HMP Spring Hill for 20 months whilst serving his own sentence. Armed with Phil’s reference book, ‘How To Get a Great Job When You Have a Criminal Record’, our Reps have spent the last two weeks prepping their candidates for interviews with McGinley – helping them create their CVs and Disclosure Letters and polish their interview skills.

Our Reps recruited 5 candidates for the Interview Surgery – not us, not prison staff or another agency. This is how we know we are getting good quality candidates, because the Candidates are people our Reps know and trust. So, what makes a good candidate? Andrew says, “you can see it in their eyes, if they want to change and make something of themselves… it’s all in their body language.” It’s not necessarily about what they’ve got down on paper. If our Reps can see that they’ve got a great attitude and are genuinely interested in putting the work in, then they are the right candidate for the job.

June the 29th was the big day in HMP Hewell – our first ‘Interview Surgery’ with a real employer, offering real jobs. Inside Job has a “surgical” approach: we bring employers into prison one at a time to meet carefully selected candidates. It’s a very focussed process that is built on trust and relationships – between the Candidates and the IJ Reps; between the IJ Reps and us; between us and employers.

Ali likens the process of supporting candidates to therapy. He says, people suddenly share their life story with you because they feel they can trust you.” Alongside Andrew, he recognises that being a peer mentor means you have to find ways to maintain motivation in candidates. It’s a huge lesson in resilience.

As a small team working in the space that we do, we face serious headwinds on a daily basis. Our Interview Surgery Day at Hewell was no different. Due to a last minute security issue, no prisoners were not allowed out of their cells that morning. This meant that all education, visits or appointments of any kind were stopped effective immediately. We were already inside, but unable to see the lads.

The 2 hours allocated to the Interviews came and went. After all the progress that was made over the last two weeks, we were devastated for Ali, Andrew and the candidates. We also worried our relationship with McGinley was in reverse. We’d travelled 400+ miles between us to interview the candidates. Could the reputation of a project, so new and fragile withstand a setback like this on day one? Too often people in prison are given hope only for it to be quickly snatched from them. We did not want to waste an opportunity like this away – especially when they’re so hard to come by.

Thankfully, a brilliant officer pulled some strings and we were allowed to interview the lads in a single session over lunchtime in a room on their wing. The feeling of relief in that room was palpable. As Ali put it, “most of the lads got fresh trims for this!”

One by one the candidates were interviewed, with Ali and Andrew on hand for support. It was great to see the rapport between the lads knowing that they had all been working towards the same goal. Watching them all leave the room with their shoulders higher and smiles wider than when they entered was a vital and timely reminder of why we do what we do. We’re not just helping people serving sentences get jobs. We want to build their belief in themselves – belief that they can build a life they want to live.

All 5 candidates received job offers that day from McGinley. This was Inside Job’s first test outside of HMP Birmingham – so this was a huge milestone for us. As clearly demonstrated that morning, working in the prison system can come with a high pain/ anxiety threshold. Having a supportive officer at Hewell who went above and beyond was the difference between success and failure.

We are only at the beginning of what Inside Job has to offer –  as more prisons start to open up and return to normal we hope to gain more momentum. We have since held our first Interview Surgery in HMP/YOI Brinsford, also with McGinley, where we saw 6 young men offered apprenticeships, and a ‘Women In Construction’ event at HMP East Sutton Park with our partner, A Fairer Chance. We have many more exciting Inside Job opportunities like this lined up in the near future. So, until then… stay tuned.

*Name change.  

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