Former “rejected 300 jobs” offender gets second chance at setting up prisoners


The former young offender, who was turned down for “more than 300 jobs,” was given a second chance at a new start-up fashion company started by inmates.

Zak Haji, 24, of West London, said he would be repeatedly turned down by employers when they found out he was a former convict, and even after he was hired, he was released when his Disclosure and Barring results returned Service.

“I think I’ve done a few hundred entries, certainly more than 300 close to 500,” Mr Haji said The Independent.

“I’ve been thinking about how they expect you to change if they don’t let you change – if I can’t legally earn, what do they expect from you?” he added.

During the pandemic, Mr. Haji successfully applied to work at the Covid Test Center, which supported the NHS in resolving the country’s biggest health emergency in 100 years, but was fired when a background check revealed his previous conviction.

Zak Haji collaborated with Inside Out after being turned down for hundreds of jobs


Despite the rejections and setbacks, Mr Haji, who has been convicted of drug-related offenses, said he is determined to turn his life around and vowed to leave the crime behind.

His determination led him to Inside Out, an organization that has enabled young former offenders to gain meaningful employment through entrepreneurship.

The organization’s latest project, Blank Canvas, has allowed eight young offenders to design and launch their own clothing brand, which they sell at a pop-up store in Stratford Westfield. The store has given young people the opportunity to develop skills in business, fashion and retail through a mix of courses run by LinkedIn.

Inside Out founder Greg McKenzie lamented the high unemployment rate among young offenders, as only 17 percent of inmates worked the year after their release.

“Some young offenders don’t get a second chance, some don’t even get a first chance. We wanted to give them experience in fashion and business, ”Mr McKenzie said.

Blank Canvas, a pop-up store of the social enterprise, Inside Out in collaboration with LinkedIn, in Westfield Stratford City, London


“It cost 70,000-80,000 pounds [a year] to place a young offender in Feltham’s Young Offenders Institution – these are social services, mental health support and various other needs. Our project to help eight young men was part of these common costs, so if you think about it, it’s not rocket science to get projects like ours and multiply them in cities up and down the country, ”Mr McKenzie said.

“Ironically, a lot of them have so much creative talent that they didn’t take advantage of or didn’t know, some are artistic, but they don’t know that when we were doing the design phase they were doing amazing sketches and drawings and that’s learned when they were inside because they had nothing to do 23 hours a day locked up, so they wanted to release this creative agency.

Inside Out co-founder Zack Fortag said the Blank Canvas project offered former offenders a unique opportunity to develop skills and feel encouraged and empowered to enter the world of work.

Zara Easton of Linkedin (center) with Inside Out founders Greg McKenzie (left) and Zack Fortag (right) at the presentation of ‘Blank Canvas’, a pop-up store owned by Inside Out


Mr Haji said the opportunity allowed him to connect with marketers and business developers, which allowed him to steer his own ideas forward.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it was a very good opportunity, it gave me a chance to see how the other side is doing it,” Mr Haji said, adding: “In the future, I want to use all the experience and connections I have gained. to reveal my ideas. ”

The Inside Out project will also provide participants with ongoing support and guidance through mutual mentoring to ensure that the next cohorts of the project are equipped to develop new skills and successfully navigate the world of work.

Founder Greg McKenzie said much of the project challenges negative public perceptions of former offenders and gives them a second chance.

Click to purchase products designed in the Blank Canvas project here.


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