“Employment is one of the key ways that you can stop people from reoffending”
Optometrist and founder of the Prison Opticians Trust, Tanjit Dosanjh, OBE, on how his dad’s experience in prison inspired him to give former inmates a second chance
20 May 2021
My dad was in prison while I was completing my optometry degree and immediately afterwards. Eventually, when you go visit a family member in prison you end up talking about the same sort of things – ‘what are you doing with your time?’ Through my visits to my dad, I had a good understanding of the types of training programmes that exist in prison. All of the training courses are very basic and didn’t seem like they were setting inmates up for a meaningful career.
When I graduated, I wanted to set up a business with a social purpose behind it. The Prison Opticians charity was founded in 2015. Since then, we have trained 65 prisoners, with 45 entering into jobs as optical advisers or lab technicians. Looking ahead, we want to be not just a small training organisation – we want to train 50 or 60 prisoners every single year. We want to set our own labs up in prisons and start glazing for the independent market, supplying the wider optical sector with our products and services.
After someone has been through our training programme, they will have had a minimum of 10 weeks of training in optics. If you are hiring someone off the street, you are not going to get that.
For prisoners, it is built into their psyche that no-one is ever going to give them a chance again. That is part of their DNA
Above and beyond the idea that it makes good business sense, these people are part of our community. They have shown me that they want to change, and they want a second chance. If this can help someone to live a crime-free life, it is good for the community. Employment is one of the key ways that you can stop people from reoffending.
Former prisoners are extremely loyal employees. For prisoners, it is built into their psyche that no-one is ever going to give them a chance again. That is part of their DNA. The first person who gives them a decent job and gives them an opportunity – they stay with them.
I have been in contact with my dad throughout the process of setting up Prison Opticians. At first, while he was a serving prisoner, he was sceptical. Like many prisoners, he believed that anything that is good for prisoners would be shut down. He was unsure whether it was the best way to spend my time. Now he has seen the project succeed, he is pleased that we are giving people who were facing the same circumstances opportunities to progress. He is proud that he has a son who is helping the sort of people who he was locked up with.
- As told to Selina Powell.