Former broadcaster Ashley Blake is urging firms to at least consider employing ex-offenders, two years after leaving prison himself. He tells Graeme Brown about his struggle to find work ever since.
You are out of prison and have repaid your debt to society - it is time to get on with your life, so you think. The problem is, if you cannot get a job, then you remain in society's debt.
It is the stark catch-22 former BBC TV presenter and ex-inmate Ashley Blake has been addressing as host of the first Employers' Forum for Reducing Re-offending in Birmingham.
Blake was released from jail in June 2010 after being convicted a year earlier for wounding a teenager with a wooden pole at a bar he owned. But since then he has applied for a host of jobs, without a hint of success.
He had hoped his experience might open new doors for a role in the media, but to no avail and now he is even considering a return to his previous life as an airline steward - the former Inside Out presenter worked for Britannia Airways before making it in television.
Blake feels firms are turning their backs on a potential pool of talent with a blanket refusal to employ ex-offenders. But he says ultimately the taxpayer is picking up the bill as former prisoners are forced onto benefits.
"I have always been of the opinion since my experience that if you send someone to jail you are effectively writing off the rest of their life," says Blake.
"That is why I am worried about the numbers of young people being sent to jail.
"Once you have been to jail employers will not even look at you. I am totally against sending young people to jail - we should look at alternative ways of punishing people."
He adds: "We are shooting ourselves in the foot. You write off the rest of their lives when you send them to jail - which costs a fortune - and then they come out and you have got to pay for them again.
"Up until recently I was a 40 per cent tax-payer. It cost something like s50,000 a year to send people to jail and they are still paying for me."
Blake returned to Sutton Coldfield after being released from prison nine months into his two-year sentence for wounding and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Jurors heard how he took a patio umbrella pole and swung it above his head, striking 17-year-old Greg Jones, of Sutton Coldfield, in the face. He later threw the pole into a neighbouring garden centre in an attempt to conceal it from police.
But, for Blake, life after prison has come as a shock, and aside from publishing his prison diaries and some charitable pursuits he has found himself deeply frustrated by the lack of work.
"I have had absolutely no work whatsoever," he says. "When I came out I was hoping to rely on some consultancy work, but it hasn't happened.
"I wasn't expecting to return to the television right away or anything like that, but I was relying on my media expertise and experience to provide me with some sort of income.
"I have been busying myself with some charitable work. I have been involved with West Midlands Blood bikes and joined the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
"I am just lending my support and profile to these organisations and I do it to keep the grey matter going."
The opportunity to present the forum on employing ex-offenders, organised by the Pertemps People Development Group, which took place at Birmingham City FC's St Andrew's Stadium, has been a rare one for Blake.
It heard from James Timpson, the chief executive of Timpson's stores, Elizabeth Campton-Sturridge, of Tempforce, and Dean Overton, managing director of Overton Recycling, about their experiences of employing former prisoners.
It was the first of a series of events across the country which aim to explain clearly to employers the practicalities of offering job opportunities to former offenders, giving them a second chance to make a success of their lives and turn their backs on crime.
"It is something that needs to be considered," Blake says. "Maybe it is too late for those people that have already gone to prison, but it needs to be considered.
"People might turn round and say 'hang on, you have been found guilty'. That is as may be, but you still need to work.
"The statistics show that more than half of people that have been in prison re-offend within the first year of coming out and that is often because they can't get a job and they are forced to go out there and commit more crimes to put food on the table.
"It may not have happened if they had a job and were bringing in a wage.
"I don't have the answers, but I know if it is affecting someone like me then it is affecting tens of thousands of people and taxpayers as well, so something needs to be done."
Blake says is realistic about presenting in front of the camera again but he is keen to use his media skills once more.
He said: "Like most people, I apply for jobs and rarely do I even have a response.
"I have been applying for reporter positions at Sky and ITV and I have not even been considered. Now I am considering going back and rejoining the airlines, which is what I did before.
"I am sure that it is because of the stigma that has been attached to me."
But he adds: "I am lucky enough to have done everything I wanted to do. I have satisfied my ambitions and I was looked after very well so there is no burning ambition there now.
"I would be more useful in an area where I could pass that knowledge on."