Teen business tycoon turned Leeds prison inmate reveals how jail time changed his life

Jacob Hill spent time volunteering through the Samaritans' prison Listener scheme while serving his jail sentence.
Jacob Hill spent time volunteering through the Samaritans' prison Listener scheme while serving his jail sentence.
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A lauded entrepreneur whose dramatic fall from grace led him to spend nearly a year behind bars has revealed how a Samaritans advice scheme helped him reassess his life.

Jacob Hill made headlines as a teenage businessman, setting up The Lazy Camper brand at 19 and being named Yorkshire’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013.

But in 2014, when faced with significant debts, he was caught selling drugs at a music festival and went on to serve 294 days of a 28-month prison sentence.

During his time in jail he volunteered with the Samaritans prison Listener scheme, in which inmates access weeks of support training and offer confidential peer support to fellow prisoners.

Having served a portion of his sentence at HMP Leeds in Armley, Jacob, 23, spent time at HMP Wealstun near Wetherby where he joined a Listeners rota offering regular support to inmates.

“It’s not about giving advice but listening and asking questions,” he said. “The idea behind Listeners is that you’re empowering and trusting prisoners to support each other.”

The Samaritans’ prison Listener scheme, which is credited with helping to reduce incidences of self-harm and suicide, marks its 25th anniversary this year.

Jacob feels his time as a volunteer combined with the reflection that jail offers helped him change his life.

“It got me thinking how I got into this situation,” he said. “You very quickly start asking yourself the same questions as the people you are listening to.”

Jacob continued: “I know what I did was stupid. It was a decision – I made that decision and it is about owning that and prison was the best thing to happen to me.

“It has turned my life around, I was on this self destruct path and going there showed me a whole new life.”

Since his release in April this year, Jacob has launched a new social enterprise called Offploy to help ex-offenders into employment by working with businesses.

In 2015 Listeners based at 117 prisons in England and Wales responded to 86,000 requests for support from people in jail who were struggling to cope.

A Samaritans spokeswoman said the Listeners scheme “fosters community within prisons and encourages people inside to look out for each other, contributing to a more positive atmosphere”.

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