Chris McConkey works as a Rolling Stock Technician with Virgin Trains
I’m in an amazing job, working as an engineer in Virgin Trains’ Bounds Green depot. I work with some great people who I’m learning a lot from and I have the opportunity to progress further and gain promotion. The future’s brighter than it’s ever been.
Three years ago, I was sent to prison for five months after pleading guilty to assault. I think prison changed me – I came out ten times more motivated than I have ever been in my life. Because of what I’d put my family through, I wanted to make up for the suffering I had caused. My partner at the time was amazing; she stood by me and gave me the confidence to push myself.
When I first got out of prison I got a job labouring in a quarry. It was really tough work – it was a 60-hour week and when I wasn’t working pretty much all I would do was sleep. But I needed to get my family financially stable after being in prison so I kept my head down and got on with it.
Before I went to prison, I’d served in the army, in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and was working in data cabling. A lot of the skills I learned have come in useful in this role I’m in now. I know what a torque wrench is and I know how an electric motor works. I had the basics and I can still use those skills.
I thought doing labouring or becoming self-employed would be my only options when I left prison. I was thinking just keep working, keep the money coming in.
I knew things were going to be difficult career-wise. I went to a few interviews where, as soon as I mentioned I’d been to jail, you could see in their faces this was going nowhere. Suddenly they’d changed their mind about filling the post or something else would happen and you wouldn’t get the job. It was really difficult to find companies who were willing to take you on.
I first met someone from Virgin Trains when I was in prison and they held a recruitment day. We spoke about my offending and I felt like they put me at ease and made it comfortable to talk about what had happened. After that it was like a normal interview; we had some group exercises and talked about my career aspirations and what I’d bring to the company. The only difference was I didn’t get to walk away at the end of the interview.
Six months after leaving prison, I was taken on a management training apprenticeship and worked in customer service roles onboard and at stations on the west coast business, based in Glasgow. But then an engineering role came up on the east coast business at the Bounds Green depot in London and I applied for that.
Working in different roles and understanding how they fit together has been really interesting. And travelling around the country, staying in hotels, visiting places I’d never heard of – it’s all been great for my confidence. From being in prison to working in a quarry to now doing this has been an amazing journey.
I would say to employers who are thinking of hiring someone with a conviction: by all means question what the criminal record is but don’t write someone off. You won’t get someone more motivated than someone who has limited opportunities. I know I have worked harder than I ever did before I went to prison because I want to make the most of this opportunity that I’ve been given.
"I know I have worked harder than I ever did before I went to prison because I want to make the most of this opportunity that I’ve been given."
Chris McConkey, Virgin Trains