Chris Leslie – Social Entrepreneur

My name is Christopher Leslie, and I am a criminal justice specialist and social entrepreneur.

I have been a Director of Inside Out Wales for 4-years and I formed CML Consultancy in late 2022, providing services to various criminal justice organisations across public, private and the third sector.

As a leader of two organisations, I am dedicated to supporting individuals before and after their release from prison and I work with both young people and adults, addressing the complex challenges involved in successful rehabilitation and preventative measures.

How did your lived experience inform your future plans?

In 2014 I was sentenced to 7 years for conspiracy to supply drugs and this was the lowest point in my life.

During the first night I spent in a cell, I made the decision to change my thinking which I knew would impact upon my life when I left prison.

I had not studied since I was 15 and the first change in my thinking and outlook was to give education a try, as I knew this could help me to secure a job on release.

I was lucky enough to be granted a place at university, studying psychology, whilst in a D-category prison. I was one of the first serving prisoners to be offered a place at university, whilst in an open jail.

I used this opportunity to investigate the opportunities that were out there for me upon release. I wanted to understand how I could use the education pathway to make the change I wanted to make.

What was the turning point?

Upon my release from jail in 2018, I was approached by a friend and mentor who asked if I would be interested in setting up a community interest company (CIC). The main aim of the CIC would be to support individuals when they leave prison, by providing self-employment, education, and transition advice.

This opportunity was amazing for me, as I had always loved helping others that had had the same experience that I had, and with this opportunity, I would get to do this in a more professional way, along with having the title of Director!

How did you utilise your entrepreneurial talent?

When I look back at my life, I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, however I channelled it in a negative way.

With lived experience from my time within the justice system, being able to give back was always forefront in my mind. Having used the educational pathway to help progress my change, I had gained an in-depth knowledge of how education can positively impact reform.

Gaining employment in the support field was also something that helped in my own transition, by providing me with a routine and stability. I was fortunate to have mentors and support along the way, and now I want to offer the same support and mentoring I received, which enabled me to change not only my mindset but my actions, and my life.

Fast forward 3 years, and today I am a Director of two successful CIC’s, both in the CJS arena – Inside Out Support Wales and EOS, and I am the sole Director of my own consultancy business – CML Consultancy and I am a Trustee for a national prison charity – The Hardman Trust.

What was a major obstacle and how did you overcome it?

I was diagnosed with dyslexia at 35, which explained some of my behaviours and attributes growing up, but back then, I did not understand why I acted in certain circumstances.

Now that I have the understanding, I put strategies in place including having open and honest conversations about dyslexia with everyone who I interact with, either face-to-face or written. I have also embraced AI to help me overcome some of the barriers I face in terms of communication, and with the use of AI, I can now communicate more effectively.

A major obstacle and something that had a massive impact on my life was when I contracted COVID in 2020. I was hospitalised, and due to complications, I spent a month in a coma. Following this, I had to re-learn several motor skills and rebuild my life. It was extremely challenging.

What are you most proud of?

I was very proud to be made a Trustee of national charity, The Hardman Trust in 2021, contributing to strategic decision-making at board level. I saw this as a way to give back for the support I had received from the Trust, whilst I was in custody. This support, quite simply, enabled me to change my life, and become a business owner.

What one piece of advice would you give others?

It is often said that going to prison is the lowest point of your life. I used it as a starting point to go up and I would encourage others to do the same.