Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 26th 2017 Contents JANUARY 26 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
We all deserve a second chance
Success can mean very differ-
ent things to people, but rarely
is it the result of one person's
As I've written before, when I
took my first steps as an entre-
preneur, I was fortunate to find and hire some
very clever people who knew much more about
running a business than I did. I also enjoyed
the support and encouragement of an amazing
family that allowed me to keep my head in the
clouds and my feet on the ground. (In fact, on
more than one occasion, Mum and Dad kept
me out of trouble---and even out of prison!)
I've never taken my support network for
granted, but I know that there are many peo-
ple out there who must live their lives without
such a network. Quite a few still succeed, but
many others struggle and fail, often due to cir-
cumstances beyond their control. For instance,
prisons in the US, the UK and elsewhere are
filled with people from poor and disadvantaged
backgrounds. Their stories demonstrate that
a lack of opportunity is often a root cause of
According to data from the Prison Reform
Trust, in England and Wales more than 46 per
cent of all prisoners re-offend within a year
of being released, costing taxpayers between
£9.5 billion and £13 billion a year.
Among those serving sentences of less than
a year, that re-offense figure jumps to 60 per
cent. These are staggering, unacceptable sta-
tistics, but we know of at least one solution:
I've long felt that people should not be judged
by the worst moment in their lives, or by the
poor choices they've made when the options
were awful from the start. So I've encouraged
our businesses at Virgin to find ways to give
people a better chance in life by training and
employing workers with a criminal conviction.
Virgin Trains has been pioneering the hiring
of ex-offenders, with 25 people now working in
different parts of the company. They've been
given a second chance at life, and have vastly
better odds of never committing a crime again.
The Virgin Trains experience has been a
strong mobilising force across the entire Vir-
gin Group, and several of our businesses are
looking into expanding ex-offender employ-
ment opportunities or working with at-risk
Last summer, I had the pleasure of meet-
ing with two wonderful members of the Vir-
gin family in the UK who have struggled with
the law in the past but are determined to turn
their lives around.
Tammy Moreton is a good example of the
difference a job can make in an ex-offender's
life. When she was 18, Tammy said she hung
around with the "wrong crowd." She spent
the next two years in and out of custody for
Upon leaving prison, Tammy sought help
from New Leaf, which connects ex-offend-
ers with mentors. The Prince's Trust helped
her start working with Virgin Trains, and she
was quickly offered an apprenticeship with the
revenue protection team.
Tammy has been with Virgin Trains for two
years, and her manager is her biggest cheer-
leader, praising how she has grown into her
The lovely young woman I met was full of
hope about the new stability in her life and she's
grateful for having been given a second chance.
Better yet, Tammy is training to mentor others
who are trying to escape the same vicious cycle
in which she'd been caught.
Jacob Hill's story is a bit different.
Jacob was once a promising young entre-
preneur who reached the finals of our Pitch to
Rich competition and acted as an ambassador
for Virgin Media Business Pioneers.
His company, Lazy Camper, sold camping
kits to festival-goers; an ingenious idea that
got a lot of attention. But Jacob found himself
with a load of debt he couldn't repay. In these
kinds of existential situations, people often
make bad decisions---I have, too---and Jacob's
decision to supplement his income by selling
Ecstasy and cannabis landed him in prison.
Today, he'll tell you that going to prison was
the best thing that could have happened to
him. During that time, he completely re-eval-
uated his life and focused on the things that
are truly important. Now released, he's full of
energy and determined to make right on his
wrongs. When we met, he told me about his
plans to set up a business helping companies
Tammy and Jacob are just two examples of
many. If we are serious about reducing reof-
fense rates, we must allow people to move on
from their past deeds and provide the second
chances everyone deserves.
Not too long ago, I listened to a presentation
by Lady Edwina Grosvenor, the British phi-
lanthropist who has devoted her life to prison
reform and the reintegration of people with a
criminal conviction into their families, com-
munities and the workplace.
Quoting one of her mentors, Edwina
summed up the challenge the prison system
faces by asking: Do we want warehouses for the
incorrigible, or greenhouses for the reformed?
At the moment, we are looking at the former.
But the latter is possible; and within reach.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
Do we want
the incorrigible, or
greenhouses for the
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