Commit a crime, go to jail, get out… but what comes next?
“Having no job opportunities and having no choice but to commit crimes again,” says Step Jones, founder of Onwards and Upwards – a charity aimed at freeing ex-offenders from the cycle of recidivism by offering them jobs.
Jones, previously an advertising executive, saw the damaging reality that recidivism could have on people during his four years as a chaplaincy volunteer at Brixton Prison.
“A lot of times after six or 12 months some of the guys I said goodbye to were back and they were back on the whole because they couldn’t work which of course meant they were going back to what they knew and then ended up where they started – inside.
Touched by the stories of the people he mentored, Jones felt compelled to do something to help those released from prison avoid falling into the trap of reoffending.
“At the time, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew that’s what I was supposed to do for probably the last third of my life.”
With the help of a friend of a friend, Rob Love, Jones managed to create a charity solely focused on improving the lives of ex-convicts – Onwards & Upwards.
“Because the cycle of recidivism is mostly fueled by companies refusing to hire ex-offenders, I thought, ‘What I’m going to do is give them jobs first,'” says Step. .
About 18 months ago, Onwards & Upwards opened its first business – XO Bikes, a bike shop that not only refurbishes bikes, but provides jobs for former prisoners.
The bike shop, located in the Lewisham shopping centre, is currently used as a workshop, providing those released from prison with training and manual skills to repair bikes.
The store collects old donated bikes and repairs them so they can be sold online through Ebay and the store’s website.
“I’m not looking for customers who want a bargain. I want customers who want to support these guys. So if anything they are paying top dollar for a great product because the truth is they are very good.
Once refurbished, each XObike receives a visible orange code that connects the bike to its original repairer – and a pair of handcuffs that work like a bike lock.
“We bought these big heavy industrial handcuffs – so instead of locking your bike, you tie your bike to a rail with these bright orange handcuffs. So even at 100 yards you’ll be like, ‘this is an XO Bike’ .
Most XO refurbished bicycles come from the Metropolitan Police’s stolen and lost bicycle warehouses.
“The police have been great so far. By giving us bikes, they’re encouraging us and this business. We can then train some of these guys coming out of jail, so they don’t have to re- stop. Is that a good use of their bikes? Yeah, sure it is. It’s a no-brainer.
Step says his vision for XO Bikes is simply to bring ex-convicts back to life.
“I want them to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t let that define me. This is me now – I have a job, I have a career and I love it. I earn a salary and pay taxes. I keep hours and have a good time at work. That’s what we want. It’s not complicated. It’s just what you and I often take for granted. .
So far, XO Bikes has trained and hired three ex-offenders, changing their lives for good. Step says employees are earning above the London living wage.
“The truth is that if you support them, you can’t get rid of them. They will be the most loyal and hardworking staff you have because no one else gave them a chance.
ELL spoke to two XO Bike employees.
Jamie, 29 years old
Jamie says he took a wrong turn at a young age and was in jail 13 times.
“I just decided one day that enough was enough,” he says. “Especially because I have to take care of my little boy, who is three years old.”
Jamie, who has had an interest in bicycles since a young age, completed a week-long training course at XO and was hired by Step as a full-time bicycle repairman.
“Being here made me realize that it’s good to be around people like that and stay out of trouble,” he says. “You have to change your mind if you want to get out of the recidivism and change your life.”
Edu, 34 years old
By going to prison just before he turned 18, Edu missed the opportunity to continue his education.
Having a conviction on his record meant that finding a job was always difficult.
“It was difficult for me,” he says. “As former prisoners, we all want and hope to have a chance. We are not all bad.
XO Bikes changed his life by offering him a job as an assistant accountant and training him to be a part-time bike repairman.
“It’s not just about bikes, you know. It’s the support you get from them. It’s good.”
What’s next for XO Bikes?
XO Bikes plans to open its doors to customers over the next few weeks to allow them to purchase bikes in person.
Onwards & Upwards also plans to open four other businesses over the next five years, including a barber shop, fitness center, clothing businesses and grocery stores.
“We want to create real big companies, where they can earn a good salary,” says Step.
Step hopes that over time, Onwards & Upwards can become a pioneer in reducing the stigma around hiring ex-offenders.