11 June 2019, The Tablet

From the streets to a scholarship

Shaun converted to Christianity while in prison and the Longford Trust, a Catholic charity, agreed to fund his studies at the Open University

From the streets to a scholarship

File photo, a homeless man is seen sleeping on a pavement in Piccadilly Circus
Dinendra Haria/Zuma Press/PA Images

An ex-prisoner supported by a Catholic charity has told how his probation officer gave him a tent and a sleeping bag so that he could live on the streets after he was released.

“She told me it was the best she could do. I was absolutely gob-smacked,” says Shaun, 28, who has left behind his life of crime and is studying for a university degree.

It was the fourth time he had been released from prison and had nowhere to live. Each time he says he returned to committing burglaries in order to survive.

After being released from his fifth sentence in February, Shaun finally turned his life around after he was sent to a hostel for ex-offenders with drug and alcohol addictions. He converted to Christianity while in prison and the Longford Trust, a Catholic charity founded by the late Lord (Frank) Longford agreed to fund his studies in computer science at the Open University.

Shaun was 19 when he first found himself homeless after leaving prison even though he was deemed at high risk of re-offending.

“I thought ‘what kind of crime could I commit to land me a custodial sentence, something that wasn’t too heavy? That would get me a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, just to get me through. May be next time inside I’d get lucky, get help with somewhere proper to live’ So, I’d be on the lookout for a ‘move’ (a burglary).”

Shaun turned to drink and drugs for “Dutch courage” to break into offices and other businesses. He says he was never addicted but towards the end of his fifth sentence in 2017, he realised his only hope of securing accommodation on release was to exaggerate his dependency. He has been sober and crime free ever since.

He says: “I believe having a place to call home has played a fundamental part in my reintegration back into society. I’m now approaching 12 months crime-free in the community. I have faith, confidence, hope and an eager desire to move forward and make something of my life. I’m a Longford scholar scoring top marks in my degree. No way could I have done that on the streets. I couldn’t see past more than a day. Now, I see the future. I can plan, set and achieve goals.”

You can read more of Shaun’s story here

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