Experience: I’m a colour-blind paint mixer

The Guardian - Jan 04, 10:00 GMT

I had a row with my bosses over a cream pot of paint that they insisted was green. That’s when I realisedI was handed a six-year prison sentence at the age of 23

I had a row with my bosses over a cream pot of paint that they insisted was green. That’s when I realised

I was handed a six-year prison sentence at the age of 23. I’d left school in Bradford at 15 with no GCSEs. I had always been a visual learner, and liked making things with my hands, so I trained to be a mechanic. My intentions were good, but I was only on £20 a week. Even alongside a training allowance of about £60, that wasn’t enough to live on; within a couple of years, I’d fallen in with a bad crowd and crime became my sole source of income.

I spent the middle part of my 20s inside, serving a total of four years. In 2007, I was granted release on temporary licence. With the prison’s phonebook and computer, I wrote more than 100 letters asking employers across the country for unpaid work. I wanted to be proactive, but received only three replies – all rejections. Eventually, Seagulls Reuse in Leeds took me on as a volunteer. It is an environmental social enterprise that rescues 400 tonnes of paint from landfill annually and repurposes it to offer a bespoke paint-mixing service. I carved out my own role, mixing paint, working with other volunteers and assisting customers, before being hired as a decorator and fully fledged member of staff.

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