Shakeel gives back to society

A former offender from Bristol says he is giving back what he had previously taken from society by helping prisoners turn their back on crime.

Shakeel Anwar, 28, from Kingswood, is putting his time in prison for two counts of armed robbery behind him and concentrating on supporting others who may have found themselves in similar situations.

He is now working as a reparation officer with social business Catch22, which delivers ‘through the gate’ resettlement services for Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BGSW CRC). In addition, he manages three barbers shops in the Bristol area.

Shakeel said: “My parents unfortunately didn’t have the information about how parenting should be. I got beaten by my father and my mother made mistakes too. Once I was free from the punishment, I think I subconsciously thought I could do what I wanted. I eventually found a new life in the streets and in the gangs.

“I had an addiction to put fear into others. Once I reacted to being called a ‘paki’. I was with women at the time and thought it would be good to show pride and make me feel significant by walking over and taking his stuff.

“Prison was being taken away from my loved ones – it was hurting them and I was not able to be there for them when situations arose. But while inside, I met some amazing people with amazing experiences. Prison was the only place I got an education. I became a barber, did courses in English, maths and IT, started studying for a sports nutrition diploma and read a book every day for 500 days.”

On release, Shakeel got involved with Catch22 through the South Gloucestershire youth offending team, volunteering with them before spotting a vacancy for a reparation officer in the Bristol area.

Recently, he has returned to prison – but this time to deliver a presentation to prisoners about turning their lives around. He has even helped to start a new barbers course in the community to help equip more former offenders with much-needed employability skills.

Shakeel added: “My presentations are just a way to help people to contribute more to each other and their societies and the new course is tailored to suit vulnerable people’s needs.

My life is amazing now. I value people, have real friends, a nice home, an amazing family. I’m giving back for what I once took. Now I can give good advice instead of creating more negativity in the world.”

Catch22’s resettlement case manager Poppy Arnold said: “Shakeel is very effective in delivering presentations as he has been in exactly the same position as the audience. He speaks with passion, openness and honesty. He gives everyone the realisation that there could be light at the end of the tunnel.”