Bradford-born Jason Brown says probation services were not working for him and feared relapsing into a life of crime.
But after getting involved with the charity User Voice he has two degrees, including one in criminology, and is studying for a masters at Leeds Beckett University.
User Voice is now working with the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company, which supports thousands of offenders in the county as they work their way through the criminal justice system.
Founded in 2009 by ex-offender Mark Johnson, it is led and delivered by former criminals, who have the special ability to gain the trust of, access to, and insight from people within the criminal justice system.
One of its key areas of work is Service User Councils, which offer a structured forum where offenders can come together to discuss how to make improvements to probation and give them a voice in their rehabilitation.
Describing his experience, Mr Brown said: “For many reasons probation was not working for me but when I attended my first Service User Council meeting it became clear that people were listening to what I was saying, understood where I was coming from and giving me the belief that I could achieve the things that I wanted to.
“I could have relapsed into a life of crime, hanging out with my old mates with the same temptations but User Voice planted the seed and I kept the faith. I now work with a team of ex-offenders who help offenders turn their life around.”
He says working with User Voice and being engaged in the Service User Councils helped him enter into voluntary work and later encouraged him to go back into education.
“I feel I’ve achieved more in the last six years than I did in the previous 20 years,” he said.