In Episode 15 of the Baltic Triangle podcast, our presenters Mick and Mark meet the ex-career criminal from Liverpool who’s turned his life around and is now helping to rehabilitate prisoners back into society by finding them worthwhile jobs ….and we hear from the woman behind this year’s planned Liverpool Biennial which kicks off in July bringing an explosion of art onto our streets and buildings.
Welcome to this month’s Baltic Triangle podcast with Mick Ord & Mark Reeson. And we promise not to mention the C-word for a couple of minutes anyway, haven’t we?
Mark Reeson [00:00:19] Well, we to mention the P-word Mick.
Mick Ord [00:00:21] All right. OK. I’m intrigued. Anyway, for this month’s Baltic Triangle podcast, I’ve met John Burton. John runs a company called Inside Connections. John has spent most of his adult life in prison and his time before that in trouble. He’s turned it all around now. And now he’s doing great work, rehabilitating people who’ve been in prison, who are on temporary release from prison or who are vulnerable. And he’s trying to get them jobs and succeeding in the construction industry.
John Burton [00:00:52] We’ve got people now who have committed serious crimes when they were 17 and 18. But they’re 40-year-old men now and accept it’s almost totally, totally wrong. But when you’re 17, or 18-year-old lads and you get bullied into doing stuff, then it’s your peers that make life worse for you. So, for us, we can see the change in what they have done over the last 20 odd years and the coming out as different people.
Mark Reeson [00:01:17] I’ve been talking to, Fatos Ustek, who’s a director of Liverpool Biennial based right here in the heart of the Baltic Triangle.
Fatos Ustek [00:01:24] Culture is in the heart of Liverpool and I think it’s very, very important that the biennial is here instead of London, because it is a big draw of audiences. But also, it is putting the UK on the cultural agenda internationally.
Mick Ord [00:01:50] So Mick, the P-word exciting news. Yes. Baltic broadband, they’re going to be our partners for this particular podcast and maybe a few more. We’ll see how they install ultra-fast networks. Keeping your broadband running fast at all times. They’re Liverpool based and they’ve got a first-class customer support service and we’ll find out a little bit more about them a bit later.
Mark Reeson [00:02:13] It’s good to see them again because we did feature them in a podcast a little while ago, didn’t we?
Mick Ord [00:02:17] Yeah, we spoke to Matt last year about IX Liverpool.
Mark Reeson [00:02:21] Great stuff, Mick. So, what have you been up to this month?
Mick Ord [00:02:24] Well, I’ve been meeting a guy called John Burton who runs Inside Collections, which is a company based in the Vauxhall area of Liverpool. John has spent most of his adult life in prison for a whole series of offences, but he was released in 2017 and he’s turned his life around completely. And he’s trying to get ex-prisoners, prisoners that want to go straight. Prisoners on a temporary license. He’s trying to get them jobs. And as he told me, he’s been really successful so far.
John Burton [00:02:53] Inside Connections is sort of an aftercare when being released from prison. When you come out of prison, there’s no aftercare there for you. We are built on aftercare. So we get ex-prisoners into to some sort of training and educational courses.
John Burton [00:03:11] Straight after the courses, there are opportunities for jobs on every course we do.
John Burton [00:03:15] And I always say to the people who are going on the courses, when you get the work experience, attendance, timekeeping and hard work. Health and safety around the site and respect to your people you work and where you’re going a job.
Mick Ord [00:03:27] Is this just in the construction industry?
John Burton [00:03:32] No, this is going in HGV and construction. It’s gone in fibre and data, sports catering and hospitality events. So we are growing rapidly and different courses were doing. Everything we do has got to have an outcome.
Mick Ord [00:03:48] And who pays for the courses?
John Burton [00:03:51] Governments fund the courses. We work with different primes around the area. Obviously, we work off them and we get outcomes at the end of them.
John Burton [00:04:01] It’s going to probably take us three years to become a prime.
Mick Ord [00:04:05] What do you mean by prime?
John Burton [00:04:06] A prime is an organisation. For example, in the north Liverpool is 19 primes and they will all get a million pounds each and then that that million pounds then get sorted into different elements of funds. And so, could be £200,000 for construction, £200,000 for health and social care, etc.
John Burton [00:04:27] But we use a couple of providers that do different things. But what we found is we’re creating bespoke courses for jobs that are actually out there.
John Burton [00:04:36] There’s plenty of jobs in the rail. There’s plenty of jobs and fibre optic and data because I think now there are 4000 jobs on the table for us nationally. BT won’t take anyone with convictions. However, we’re not just going to be doing people with convictions. We’re going to be normal people as well; anyone who’s out of work for a while, anyone who’s gone down the wrong roads and need to try and change, then we’ll give them the opportunity to do it.
Mick Ord [00:05:00] And what guarantees you have that the people are actually taking part in the courses will behave themselves.
John Burton [00:05:07] While the guarantees we can give you is we have put over 100 people in work since July and we have not had a problem with any of them.
John Burton [00:05:16] So we do our risk assessments and our own assessments.
John Burton [00:05:20] We look into what we think could stop them from doing something. You know, when you’ve been to prison, you’ve done a long time, you can spot an idiot and you can spot somebody who wants to get out for the day and just trying to have a meal around town. It’s not about that for us. It’s about keeping us sustainable people out of prison, keeping them on the premises and getting them through training and then getting them straight into work.
Mick Ord [00:05:49] So if someone was about to be released, they would express a desire to go on one of your courses. You assess them and then you place them. Is it as simple as that?
John Burton [00:05:59] It is, yep. Different prisons have different ways of working. So, if we could get into the prison three months before people were getting released, within six weeks, we could go back and see them and have a place for them to live if they have nowhere.
John Burton [00:06:14] We’d probably be able to get a few things sorted with benefits while that on the three-month course with us. Depending on the individual they can start with us after prison and complete a two-week course and go into work. They could do a four-week course and go into work or a six-week course and go into work.
John Burton [00:06:31] We don’t need anyone to do any six or twelve-month courses just to get them into work. What I’m sick of hearing is that when people are getting out of prison, is that got to do this course, this course and this course. Well, it doesn’t work like that.
John Burton [00:06:43] We can put them through one simple course, whether it’s construction, rail, HGV or fibre optic. data.
John Burton [00:06:51] There are many courses out there that we can actually fulfil people’s needs for, but we’re looking for jobs that fulfil for people’s needs. We’re not looking for minimum wage jobs or living wage jobs. So, if you if you’re talking about somebody who wants to go into a warehouse and what they have to go through a recruitment agency, it’s only going to be a minimum wage job. So, we try and steer away from that part. And, you know, don’t get me wrong, we do our job for individuals who rarely find it difficult to do any of the courses and just needed a sort of job. But for me, it’s all about the living wage.
John Burton [00:07:23] If we can get the living wage sorted out, it’s a little bit extra protection money. And the majority of people go on through to construction wants to use agencies. If you use agencies, they’re going to take more money. But, you know, there’s ways around that where you can work with like an umbrella company where they do all the way. Take a small fee and the lads get £100 pounds a month more than the wages. So, it’s stuff like that that we’re looking at and been tapping on to.
John Burton [00:07:54] It’s a try before you buy, no employer rarely wants to take anybody on straight away. So, we give them a 13-week trial before they buy. They go through the umbrella company and after 13 weeks, the employer is then going to take them on with full-time employment or pay them the same rate they pay the workers in that in that job.
Mick Ord [00:08:13] And what’s the reaction of employers been like? Because a lot of employees would be worried about taking on someone straight from prison.
John Burton [00:08:21] Well, I was at Wilmott Dixon yesterday and I had a meeting with all the supply chain. And while we were in there, some fella come in and he said… who John from Inside Connections? And I went, that’ll be me. He went, great. He went. Nice to meet you. Can I have another ten lads like the two lads I’ve got here? I said you can have another 20 if you want, but he said we just want ten for now.
John Burton [00:08:39] He said, and I’ve got sites in Manchester I’ll take another 10 or 20 for over there he wants.
Mick Ord [00:08:53] What kind of offences are they in for? I mean, you know, could they be extremely serious? Could they be sex offenders, or could they be just people who got into a bit of trouble when they’re younger, burglary or whatever?
John Burton [00:09:05] Well, let’s get one thing straight. Prolific murderers, sex offenders, rapists and pedophiles. To me, I’ve got illnesses. So, for me and my staff, we can’t deal with illnesses.
John Burton [00:09:18] And the special people out there that can deal with illnesses, we can’t work with any of those people. But what we do is work with medium to low-risk offenders. Someone who’s made a mistake when they were young.
Mick Ord [00:09:28] How do you convince yourself that someone sitting in front of you who’s been inside for fifteen or twenty years is actually ready for the outside world and ready to train and get a job, ready to be a responsible employee?
John Burton [00:10:25] Well, we can get people out of prison now with only the last 18 months to serve. We can put them through two, four, six-week courses. But while going through the courses, they’re learning everything they need to learn. Customer service is a big one. Money management is another big one. Employability, that’ll be another big one. It’s all different elements of what we’re teaching because 90 percent of my staff have got lived experiences. We have been to prison. We have done some serious things in our lives, but we’ve come out at the other end and changed. And when you sit down with prisoners, as far as ex-prisoners, you’ll find that you’ll get a lot more information than if they were sitting down with a suit.
Mick Ord [00:11:14] So. you personally would have credibility with these people sorted out because you can tell them that you’ve spent a lot of your adult life in prison.
John Burton [00:11:26] I went to see a young traveller lad finishing a twenty-three sentence. made a mistake when he was 18, he knows what he did is almost totally, totally wrong. It was all a bit of fighting And I’ve been in I’ve met him again this morning and I’m quite happy knowing that he’s turning his life around and relocating from his past and coming to Liverpool. He was a boxing champion. He still can be a boxing champion. And he wants to start working with younger people and wants to bring people in into the professional world to boxing. And we’ve done that for them. So, we’ll support him and I’m quite happy I met him and I know he made a mistake in his life.
Mick Ord [00:12:24] Just tell us a little bit about your background? When did you first start getting into trouble or shall I say, when did you first get caught?
John Burton [00:12:33] I have been getting into trouble since I was a young lad. Obviously, I had the police at my mum and dad’s door constantly and I was just doing stupid things.
Mick Ord [00:12:45] Why was that? Can you look back and think, well, the reason why was this…?
[00:12:48] The reason was couldn’t keep my unseemly pocket; I was fighting all the time. I was using guns. I was selling drugs.
To find out more about the interview, please start the podcast above.