In today’s Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson argues everyone deserves a second chance. We all make mistakes, let’s make sure offenders aren’t dumped on the scraphead for life.Boris begins: “I am looking at an old pair of ski gloves on my desk and trying to analyse my feelings of deep and intense satisfaction. These gloves have been with me for most of my life. I bought them aged 18 on the slopes of Mt Buller in Australia, where I learnt to ski – or rather, formulated my own patent method of rapidly descending black runs.
I remember handling them in the shop, and wondering whether I could afford them out of my measly assistant teacher’s wages. They looked unbelievably cool – dark blue with ridges all the way up to the wrist, like the Michelin man. I have pranged in those gloves in resorts across Europe’s mountains. I have poled with them through blizzards and banged them together to keep warm on ice‑bound chairlifts. They have never let me down.
It was only a few weeks ago, at the end of a day on the pistes of France, that I noticed they were finally beginning to show their age. A hole had appeared in the leather of the right index finger; small at first but as the week went on it got worse. By the fourth or fifth day the wind was getting in. My finger was numb – my whole hand was getting cold.
I toughed it out (of course) but when I packed them up at the end of the trip I had a terrible sense of finality, as when a much-loved pet must be sent to the vet to be put down. And then I thought, no, there has to be a way. I remembered some shoes I had at school, which had ruptured under pressure from my broad, flat feet. The little toe had started to poke out – but instead of chucking them, I had persuaded a cobbler to sew a cunning little round patch over the hole. That’s what it needed – a patch. But how?
And then I was cycling to work and, aha, I saw Timpson: the shoe bar. They looked at it. They sucked their teeth, and asked for a few days; and now my ski glove is whole again. They have fixed it with heart-surgeon expertise, and as I was showing off the results to another customer in the shop, he said: “We don’t repair enough stuff these days.”
And that is the point. I think that is why I feel such pleasure. We abandon things so easily – we chuck out televisions or computers as soon as they get ill; we hardly ever bother to restring tennis rackets. We live in a callous and throwaway society; and as I handle my beloved old gloves, I feel that something has been saved from the eternal fire. I rub my thumb along the tiny little stitches, and I can tell that this patch is going to last. Timpson has given new life to my gloves; they have a fresh chance – a whole new career ahead of them. And they do the same with people, too.
No, my friends – and thanks to all of you who have stuck with me so far – this is not a shaggy dog story about my ski gloves. This is about the amazing campaign of a great British company to patch up human beings, to give them new prospects and new hope. I believe in a tough approach to law and order. If people commit serious crimes they should be banged up, no question. But when people leave prison – as so many thousands do every year, after relatively short sentences – they should not be abandoned by society.
At the moment we have a reoffending rate of about 61 per cent for all prisoners, and it rises to about 80 per cent in the case of young offenders. And in so many cases, the reasons they are driven to reoffend are obvious. They will come out to find that their relationships have broken down, that they have nowhere to live and, above all, that they have no job. No wants to employ an ex-offender – no one, that is, except Timpson.
It all began a few years ago, when one of the Timpson family was at a meeting in a prison and met a young man who impressed him. He gave the prisoner his card, and told him to get in touch when he got out. The young man has gone on to become a highly successful employee, and manager of a store. They now employ 250 others – the majority of whom, all the statistics say, would otherwise have gone on to reoffend.
Over the lifetime of the Timpson programme, about 400 former prisoners have been taken on, working at cutting keys or mending shoes – and only nine have turned back to crime. Think of the blessing that represents to society. It is a huge cash saving, of tens of millions of pounds – since it costs about £50,000 per year to keep a person in prison; and it is a saving in all the rage and suffering that is caused by crime.
John Timpson and his team have now been recruiting in 70 prisons across the country, and their ex-offenders have done them proud. The only sadness is that so few other businesses are joining them – so few are willing to look beyond the stigma of having a criminal record, and to see the potential of the person underneath. We have a prison population of about 85,000 – the highest it has ever been. We have more offenders coming out and then going straight back in, because they find the world is hopelessly prejudiced against them, and they cannot get a job.
Timpson has shown that it does not need to be this way; that these people are not beyond hope; that they can be just as good, just as useful, as any other members of society – and though these people may be damaged and lacking in self-esteem, they are not beyond repair. It sounds corny to say it (and I guess you knew this was coming) but this business mends soles, and mends souls as well. If only a score of other businesses would do the same, our country would be immeasurably better.