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Guest Blogger Jane Gould talks about Clean Sheet

In this blog, Jane Gould of Clean Sheet talks about the Olympics and the work of Clean Sheet.  For further information, please visit www.cleansheet.org.uk.


Working with prisoners and ex offenders, I can’t help but draw impressions and lessons from the awesome experience of London 2012.

So many of our medal-winning athletes have faced real adversity – physical, emotional and financial  – in their individual journeys to the podium,  to win that precious, life-changing disc of beribboned metal.

It’s been great to hear them giving their families, coaches and support teams the credit for their success.

Each week I and my team of volunteers go into a number of prisons to lead Clean Sheet Ways to Work© 90 minute session with soon to be released prisoners.  We then work with them if they contact us after release – signposting them to housing providers, Job Clubs and the specialist help they need.

Whether they’re first timers or prolific offenders, they all want one thing when they walk out through that gate – to start again with a Clean Sheet. Employment can be key to successful rehabilitation; but so often their record is held against them, so we encourage employers to consider ex offenders for employment, training or volunteering opportunities.

At least half of the men we work with have been in and out of prison from their troubled teenage years to their mid forties and beyond, often with increasingly serious offences and longer sentences.

They’re often plagued by the demon of addiction – drugs and drink. They clean up – they fall again. They are so desperate for this to be the last time. They’ve taken all the prison courses, they’re gritting their teeth for another stab at the future; but if they don’t get the right support after release, it’s likely we’ll be seeing them again all too soon.

Unless they really understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; but the first step to recovery.

Broken necks – bereavement – illness – financial hardship; all hurdles overcome with fortitude and sheer guts. And we haven’t even started the Paralympics yet!

But although these stories of achievement are inspiring and sobering, many people we meet day to day, including those in prison, can give us examples of overcoming difficulty. You just need to scratch the surface.

Would I have got back in the saddle following a broken neck? I seriously doubt it; but my stepmother did at the age of 60. Would you have been able to found and lead a charity when your day was punctuated by physically caring for your Dad? I saw a colleague do just that. What does it take to chase a mugger to retrieve a girl’s stolen bag? One of my former young offenders knows; he did it last year.

I believe that we are all born capable of excellence in some way or another. We need something to inspire us, we need to dare to dream and we need  people to encourage and support us to clear the hurdles in our paths.

And finally, back to the Olympics again – I‘ve been smiling quietly at commentators explaining that everyone starts with – you guessed it – a Clean Sheet. Let’s hope our ex offenders can too!

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