A former Oxbridge student who went from working in the City to life behind bars is among a group of reformed ex-prisoners who have turned their lives around during lockdown.
Tarang Katira, 35, who grew up in a middle class family in north London, was a student at the University of Cambridge and had a number of jobs in the financial sector.
But in 2019, Mr Katira found himself behind bars with a 22-month sentence after admitting to one charge of controlling or coercive behaviour.
He told the PA news agency: “Prison was difficult, as was expected.
“The complete loss of dignity was the hardest part to accept – whether it is being strip-searched by the officers or being away from family and locked up for 23-and-a-half hours a day for weeks on end in a small cell.”
After leaving prison he struggled to find employment, but was helped by Key4Life, an innovative crime prevention charity which rehabilitates ex-offenders.
After going through the rehabilitation programme, Mr Katira built his own business working with other companies and investors during the coronavirus pandemic.
He is one of many ex-offenders who have turned their lives around post-prison with the help of the charity.
Chance Bleu-Montgomery, 51, from Hackney, east London, says he has spent a combined 16 years in prison for seven different offences including robbery, drug dealing and grievous bodily harm (GBH).
Mr Bleu-Montgomery said: “I didn’t have the best of childhoods, I never felt at ease at home so I used to go out and mix with the wrong crowd.
“Prison became a second nature to me, I was in and out and never really learnt my lesson, I was angry with the world and hid my insecurities behind being violent and cold to people.
“I was sat in my cell one day in 2018 and was thinking about life, my actions and how I had become and decided I didn’t like it at all.
“I remember tears running down my face and thinking I’m going to change this around.”
Mr Bleu-Montgomery, who has a son aged 23, got in touch with Key4Life and started developing business plans after enrolling in an Open University course before leaving prison for the final time.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he set up his own company called Trooth, which supplies nutritious fruit and veg boxes, herbs and supplements.
He said: “Although I’m ashamed of my past, I can only look to the future.
“I want to spend the rest of my life helping others, as without help I would have never turned things around.”
Vernel Dolor, 27, said he was inspired to turn his life around to be there for his daughter, now aged nine.
Mr Dolor, from Hackney, was first imprisoned for his involvement in the London riots in 2011.
After another stint behind bars for drugs offences in 2015, he was left with very few job prospects and in 2019 got in touch with Key4Life.
Mr Dolor said: “I was among a crop of people who had nowhere to go in life, there was nothing for us, I never had a job so no-one was going to employ me.
“All the youth clubs started closing and we ended up with the older guys, and that’s how I was introduced to crime.”
In early 2020, following his rehabilitation programme, he started working with television production company Knickerbockerglory.
He said: “Most people have said 2020 has been terrible for them, but for me it’s probably been the best year of my life, the year I changed things around.
“The grass is definitely greener this side, I’d like to see more people from where I grew up do the same, it’s never too late to change.”
Ony Ebalu, 28, from Wandsworth, said he hit “rock bottom” and was struggling financially before “getting caught up” in crime and ended up in prison.
But Mr Ebalu went on to start a number of companies including a confectionery business which has operated throughout lockdown.
He said: “Inside prison, I decided to separate myself from all the bad influences, I analysed how I got myself in that situation and how I could prevent it from happening again.
“I realised I needed a different pathway but only I could do it.”
Mo Essa, 30, from Kensington, west London, said he got his “dream job” at a marketing agency after spending nine months in three different prisons for dealing drugs.
Mr Essa said his upbringing of “little opportunity” and a desire to leave home pushed him towards crime in 2018 after seeing the financial rewards it brought to people he knew.
He said: “It was pretty rubbish in prison to be honest, it was really tough in there, like one big rollercoaster, I felt trapped.
“But I kept my head down and knew that the time would come when I could start again and find new opportunities – that’s what I focused on inside.”
Mr Essa went on to get an executive role at marketing agency Media Com ahead of more than 200 applicants.
Key4Life, along with KPMG, has helped hundreds of young men, identifying those most at risk of being involved in violent crime, or those that have spent time in prisons or young offender institutions.