"I stitched with Fine Cell Work in prison for two years. It took me about the same amount of time to get into the group in the first place, the waiting list was so long. I had done embroidery at school, there was a time when I was the only guy in my entire textiles class. Needlepoint was new to me.
I'd heard about the Open the Gate programme whilst I was still inside but when I was first came out I was sent to the South coast and commuting to the Hub would've been impossible. Five months on, I was relocated so I got back in touch with Fine Cell Work to see if I could still get involved. I started the following week.
My first day was good. Everyone seemed really friendly - the staff, volunteers and other apprentices. I was paired up with Kevin, another apprentice, and we were given the task of labelling products that had come back from prison, ready for them to be sold.
It was a very calm place to me, no-one was fighting to get their voices heard like they used to in prison. In a new environment, I'm normally the quiet one so it was nice to feel that I would be heard if I spoke. Everyone was just brilliant and made me feel comfortable which was a great help.
I am a forklift driver by trade, so when Fine Cell Work offered to apply for funding to help me regain my licence, I was really pleased. Having a licence again would open up so many opportunities for me and double my earning potential. I passed with flying colours.
Before Fine Cell Work my outlook was dark and dismal, but they have helped me massively with that. I have met new people, I have learned how to communicate with people and I have built friendships that will last.
I now have a part-time job in my local area and will be leaving the Open the Gates programme. I am in a position where I can work hard and get a good reference which will be a stepping stone to other things. That in itself is huge for me.
Fine Cell Work will have a place in my heart forever. From being in a studio flat with nothing and no-one, I have come to a place where I have learned new skills, have had great company and I could be myself."
Image: Shaun with his first needlepoint piece stitched in prison - a needlecase featuring Shaun the sheep.
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