The Yorkshire Evening Post was given access to the inmates during an official launch earlier this week of the HMP Leeds Construction Academy.
It is a purpose built centre within the prison where prisoners can learn skills that are desperately needed in the construction industry in and around Leeds as it prepares for another building boom as the South Bank redevelopment progresses. They work towards recognised qualifications that businesses have specifically told the Prison Service they are looking for and willing to take on ex-offenders for.
It is hoped that by having secure employment and a regular wage when they leave prison - it reduces the chance of re-offending, which is currently costing the government £15bn per year.
Ishmael, aged 39, is serving a two year sentence for drug supply. He said: "I had a bad patch in my life, it led to drugs but I am over that now. I have kids and a family that care about me and I need to be as positive as I can. I was decorating before I came inside, it is something I have always done but never had the qualifications. I want a job when I get out and that is why I am doing this. It is better than sitting in your pad feeling sorry for yourself. It is positive and the skills are something that you can do for the rest of your life."
Dean, 31, is due for release in 2021 having served time for burglary and has been in and out of prison a few times. He hopes getting qualifications will help him secure a job and so he can start a stable family life with his partner and their one-year-old daughter.
He said: "I have a one-year-old daughter and it has killed me being in here this time. I am good at art so I want to do the painting and decorating. I have the experience but have never had the paper-work so I am giving it my 100 per cent.
"It has been hard to get a job before because of the qualifications but this gives you that and the confidence to say 'I can do this and that'. I re-offended because I had nowhere to live, now I have a family and I will do everything I can."
The new centre comes after Steve Robson, the governor at HMP Leeds, admitted the prison service in the past has failed prisoners when it comes to rehabilitation. Along with an ex-offender, turned successful businessman, The Yorkshire Prisons Group, funding providers APM and Bounce Back, a charity and a social enterprise focussed on training and employment of ex offenders, the project at Armley Prison is now working with its first set of offenders who are gaining skills in tiling, joinery, plastering and painting and decorating.