How a stretch in Hydebank Wood can change your life

For many ex-cons it can feel like the punishment continues even when they’re out of prison. Andy Martin visits the ‘secure college’ changing all that

Friday 20 August 2021 21:30
<p>Hydebank looks more like an Oxbridge college than a prison  </p>

Hydebank looks more like an Oxbridge college than a prison

Keith is not your average ex-con. For one thing, at the tender age of 27 he’s made over a million in the last three years – legally. And I shouldn’t even call him an ex-con: he’s more of a graduate, having been a “student” as they call prisoners at Hydebank Wood College in Belfast. He’s doing a lot better than most graduates. Keith gives a lot of credit to Tommy O’Gorman, one of Ireland’s most successful businessmen, who sold Cove Energy a few years back for a cool couple of billion. This is the story of how Keith met Tommy – and how a spell in Hydebank Wood can change your life.

Keith was ultimately convicted for firearms offences, but the charges that put him away were serious enough to mark him out as a Category A prisoner – the most dangerous type of offender, and the only one in Hydebank Wood. He’s over six foot and well-built so his first day a heavy guy comes up to him and says: “I run this prison.” To which he replies: “I don’t want to run the prison, so we’re fine.” Eventually he was moved to a less secure wing and granted more freedom. He served two and half years inside, where he became the manager of “The Cabin”, the first café inside a prison that is run by the prisoners themselves.

When he got out he looked for a job. In order to get a job he had to get a bank account. He went to the bank to open an account, but as soon as he mentioned his recent stint inside, he was firmly shown the door. “All doors were closed to me,” he says. “You’re still being punished when you’re out.” So he decided to go into business for himself, just him and his laptop. Before his arrest, at the age of 19, he had completed the first year of a business degree at Dublin Business School and he had “done a lot of studying inside”. How hard could it be? He borrowed £1,000 from two friends and set himself up as a trader. He did his research, analysed the markets scrupulously, and invested all his money in Abercrombie and Fitch. It looked perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

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