What I did in prison: Reformed robber designs revolutionary envelope
'We were brought up poor on council estates - you see people with cars, with money, and you want it'
20 February, 2018 — By William McLennan
TERRY Ellis has appeared in the pages of the this newspaper before.
Last time around, in August 2009, his picture was printed beneath the headline: “Jail for robbers who donned police uniforms to raid firms.”
Mr Ellis was part of an “organised and professional” gang who dressed as police officers in order to trick their way into businesses in Camden Town and Somers Town, before tying up staff and robbing them. But it’s a different story today.
After serving half of his 16-year sentence, the 53-year-old has turned his back on life as a career criminal and is building a social enterprise that he hopes can help others break the cycle of repeat offending.
Mr Ellis said: “I don’t hide anything I’ve done. I’m ashamed of what I did and I’m ashamed of being the person I used to be, but, you know something, I’ve got pretty thick skin and I can move forward. You have to lead by example.”
While serving the end of his sentence in open prison HMP Springhill, Mr Ellis and fellow inmates designed a reusable envelope that they believe can revolutionise the postal system, saving both money and paper. They are now raising funds to help get the business off the ground.
Mr Ellis’s last appearance in the CNJ
In the meantime, they have founded Sealing Futures, a social enterprise to help grow the business and support other prison-leavers with an entrepreneurial streak.
“We want to go back into prisons and hold a workshop and show them how to sort their business plan and their finances,” said Mr Ellis. He believes that a lack of support for offenders leaving prison without stable accommodation drives reoffending. “I saw this revolving door of people coming in and out,” he said. “They come out of prison, they’ve got no money, they’ve got nothing, no housing, nothing. They end up living on people’s settees, getting drunk, taking drugs, getting into fights and basically going back to prison.”
Since leaving prison, he has been staying in the spare room of a friend’s home in Hampstead, but worries others are less fortunate. The social enterprise is looking at ways to organise a rent deposit scheme for prisoners coming to an end of their term.
One way Mr Ellis had hoped to achieve this was by using them as a workforce, manufacturing envelopes for Sealing Future, but he said the prison authorities turned down the proposal. He spent part of his prison sentence at HMP Grendon, Britain’s only therapeutic prison.
“I done two-and-a-half years in therapy, which taught me a lot,” he said. “Everyone I knew was a criminal, so my role models were criminals. That’s all we knew as kids. We were brought up poor on council estates. You see people with cars, with money, and you want it. Because you haven’t got an education you think you can get it by any means. It’s only when you get to our age that you realise that all that stuff we did years ago was pathetic.”
Mr Ellis, who found faith while in prison, now attends the born again New Life Church at Acland Burghley, having been baptised while in prison.