A hand up, a chance for redemption

A hand up, a chance for redemption 17/04/2009
Allan McGinlay

Allan McGinlay gets new lease on life with European Social Fund training and coaches former convicts on finding a place for themselves in society.

Allan McGinlay is not a bad person, but he faced hard times growing up on the tough streets of Glasgow. Moving in questionable circles, by the age of 18 he had made some mistakes and been caught up in doubtful activities. Eventually, his life began to revolve around drinking, causing trouble in local pubs and brawling in the streets. Time passed and he found himself falling into a dizzying cycle of unemployment, drug use and, finally, a jail sentence. 

He got out of prison, more years passed, and a happy marriage provided some respite, giving Allan a sense of structure and belonging, but his bad luck wasn’t over. Frustration set in when he lost another job. The downward spiral seemed unbreakable. He lost hope and became depressed. 

Today he says, “Sometimes people need a second chance in life, and I was lucky enough to get a second chance.” 

Wisdom through experience

The 'Life Coaching' project, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social fund, gave Allan his second chance. Its aim was to move former prisoners into gainful employment. Trainees, ex-offenders themselves, were taught how to provide advice and counselling to other ex-offenders returning to the Glasgow area after a period in prison. 

The project helped Allan face his own demons and turn his life around. After completing the training, he was engaged by the Wise Group, and he now works full time at its office in Wishaw, Scotland, assisting other ex-offenders. 

So, now, Allan is back in prison, but this time it's to help others: people like himself who have hit rock bottom and made bad choices. He meets with soon-to-be-released inmates and helps them return to life on the outside, find work and housing, get in touch with services, keeping their spirits up and their eyes on the straight-and-narrow. 

The peer support model, using former prisoners to aid other former prisoners, is seen as an effective way of establishing trust, strengthening service users’ mental and emotional health, reducing self-harm and reoffending. 

Job satisfaction

“Some pretty rough cases come through our doors,” Allan explains. “We see young people who are drug addicts, in bad condition, hopeless, even suicidal. It’s tragic, it can be heartbreaking, but it gives us an enormous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we can help turn one of these kids around, help them find a place to live, and get a job.” 

Satisfaction and self-confidence are the keys to Allan’s new-found success. The Life Coaching project, he says, has made all the difference in the world to him and his family, and today he can honestly say he is a happy man. “If the programme hadn't come along, my life would have spiralled completely out of control. It's allowed me to become the man I should have been long ago.”