Jack Twigg made the papers three times before he was 29-years-old. The day he scored nine goals for his youth football team. The day he went to jail. And the day he told the world he had a new job.
Last week, Jack announced on Twitter that he’d be leaving his role as a Timpson store assistant in Stretford and taking charge of his own branch in Irlam.
“6 months ago I was struggling to find work with a criminal record,” he wrote on March 31.
“Timpson offered me a trainee role which changed my life. Today I’ve been told from April 12th I’m officially a branch manager with my own shop!! I can’t wait to get started and kick on as a manager!”
For anyone else, getting such a promotion would be a big moment. But for Jack, it was life-changing.
As soon as he tapped the send button on that tweet, his world flipped upside-down.
Within minutes of floating out into the Twittersphere, the post took on a life of its own – transforming Jack from an Oldham ex-con into a viral star.
Thousands of well-wishers flooded to congratulate him, whilst press outlets jostled with one another to grab Jack for an interview and share his story.
The likes and shares on the Tweet are still accumulating by the hour.
“Honestly, it’s gone crazy. It’s been non-stop for days,” Jack chuckles.
“It’s all been lovely.”
Jack’s fast-track trajectory from ex-con to store leader is the kind of classic, heartwarming rags-to-riches tale that strikes a chord; proving that human beings can clamber their way out of the darkest places and achieve incredible things.
But that’s only part of the story.
What makes Jack’s tale quite so unique is that once upon a time he was working as a prison guard. Never did he believe for one moment that’d he end up on the wrong side of the bars.
In his early twenties, Jack signed up to an HMP training programme in the Midlands – a course focused on helping staff make the next step up as prison officers.
He hated it.
The programme focused on military-based, routine-focused, regimented training which “didn’t sit well” with Jack, and it wasn’t long before he found himself slipping into a dark place.
Unhappy and homesick, Jack would slink off into the nearby town and pick up cans of lager, spending the rest of his evenings sitting in a bar before taking more beers to his room at bedtime.
“I was sat in tears on my bed drinking a can,” he remembers.
“I didn’t want to quit because I didn’t want to let everyone down. Even though quitting was exactly what I wanted to do.
“But if I walked away, I wouldn’t have a job, either. I’d just bought a house.
“It all really overwhelmed me.”
Then, one afternoon, Jack’s mental health tipped over the edge.
“I had a bad panic attack in a bar in a toilet cubicle… with really negative, dark thoughts,” he explains.
“I got in my car. Put my foot down. And I wasn’t feeling myself.”
The impact of the crash was so intense that Jack suffered serious head injuries – and his memories of the incident are fuzzy at best.
He’s still not sure whether he got behind the wheel with the intent to end his life.
“Did I want to die? I don’t know. Was I trying to kill myself? I don’t know.”
What Jack does believe, however, is that he “did something wrong and rightly went to prison for it”.
He’d come off badly in the incident, but so did another victim – and a judge determined jail was necessary.
Jack was sentenced to 28 months incarceration with a minimum of 10 months and three weeks.
At the time, it all seemed like an instant nightmare. But looking back, Jack believes the long-term warning signs had been there.
The preamble to the crash had been, as he puts it, an “accumulation of years of anxiety.”
In his younger days, Jack would be out with his friends in a busy bar or nightclub and quietly vanish to go for a pint in a quiet backstreet boozer alone for an hour.
His friends would text to ask him where he was, and he’d lie – claiming he was still in the club.
“I should have addressed that then but I never did,” Jack states.
“It just progressed over the next three or four years to bad panic attacks and really low self-esteem. Throw in the quite harsh life of working for the prison service… that just finished me off.”
Prison is a dangerous place at any time. But particularly for an ex-prison officer.
Due to his former role with HMP, Jack was offered a spot on the protected wing – a part of the prison allocated for inmates who may be targeted by others.
It’s the part of a jail where you’ll find police and prison officers who’ve committed crimes. But also inmates who are sex offenders and child abusers.
“It’s a weird atmosphere [in the protected wing],” Jack says.
“They’re really well behaved and they don’t talk to each other about the crimes. It’s really hush-hush.
“I could have gone there, and they probably wouldn’t have said ‘boo’ to me. Nobody speaks on that wing.”
But Jack decided against it. He’d take his chances in general population.
Officers understood, reminding Jack he could be in danger if people discovered his past life as HMP staff. If trouble brewed, they promised to whip Jack out of his cell in the middle of the night and move him to the protected part of the prison.
Jack’s next few months behind bars were devastating, challenging and even inspiring – and he is currently chronicling the big moments in his fascinating online blog ‘Life on both sides of the cell door’.
Once his time was complete, Jack came out of prison understanding more about himself – but also more about what the justice system doesn’t do so well.
“The rehabilitation side of it is very weak for all kinds of reasons,” Jack explains.
“A lot of lads are trapped in a repeat cycle.
“I got talking to these lads. They don’t want to be there.”
“As a prison officer, you look at a file and it says: ‘Repeated burglary’. You don’t know why [the inmate did it].
“They’d never tell you the backstory when you’re in your uniform. But when you’re one of them, sat in the cell with them having a coffee – the amount I got told… it was sad.”
“There’s something in [the prisoners] if you let them get it out. 75% of lads in there would snap your hand off if you gave them a chance.”
Second chances are exactly what Timpson – Jack’s employer – has become famous for. According to the company’s chief exec, James: If you offer something to someone who’s never had anything, they’re so grateful for the opportunity they’ll give you their best work. It was a message that really hit home for Jack – a philosophy that tempted him to reach out in the first place.
After being released from prison himself and struggling to find work, Jack began his blog as a form of therapy – and in the subsequent months it become a self-help website, motivational tool, and even a survival guide.
It’s already been helping other people. But its first major achievement was securing Jack a job.
After months’ of failed applications, Jack attached the blog entries in an email to Mr Timpson himself – and he was invited in for an interview.
Ever since then, he’s been thriving in a role he loves.
“It’s been brilliant,” Jack explains.
“When I came out of prison, I was in a strong position to find work – I’m educated with a good CV – but I couldn’t find anything.”
“I dread to think how hard it must be for others.”
A mere six months after signing on the dotted line to join Timpson, Jack is now being handed the keys to his own store.
It’s been quite the journey.
“They want to give the shop a new lease of life and get it firing on all cylinders.” Jack says.
“It’s a challenge which I accept. Who knows what the next step is.
“But for now, I can’t wait to get going with it.”
Read Jack’s blog – ‘Life on both sides of the cell door’ – online here.
A super-secret look inside GCHQ’s Manc spy headquarters
The Manc recently had the privilege of looking around GCHQ’s Manchester headquarters to meet the real-world spies, data analysts and security experts keeping us all safe. It was awesome.
For anyone unaware, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is the British intelligence agency that helps look after our nation’s security both at home and abroad, and back in 2019, the national security organisation set up its Manchester base in Heron House just off Albert Square.
Just last month, we were invited along to meet some of these silent heroes in person as part of a private and unprecedented press day, opening up their doors to select members of the public for the first time.
Invited inside the high-security facility along with around 60 kids from Whalley Range‘s St Margaret’s Primary School, we spent the day cracking codes, being upstaged by children much smarter than us and trying not to sweat through our clothes from nervousness.
Welcome to Manc spy HQ
After being escorted through a strict entry procedure and chaperoned upstairs to the only floor we were allowed on, we were met by an admittedly unsuspecting team of people that you would never twig as working in espionage. It quickly put us at ease.
We’re not joking when we say there were areas of this place we weren’t allowed anywhere near and even staff members have to their leave belongings behind before entering. However, what we did get to see was seriously impressive.
As well as immediate sights like the small drones being controlled by employees who could only give us their first names, we were also welcomed into a large briefing room with a high-tech display with screens that stretched across an entire wall and genuinely resembled something from a Bond flick.
We then did our best to keep up with some of Britain’s brightest young brains, working through a series of code-cracking exercises inspired by the GCHQ’s new Puzzles for Spies book.
Making moves in Manchester
So why Manchester? Well, we spoke to Deputy Director Liz (yes, that’s all you’re getting) and she explained numerous appealing factors that drew the over-100-year-old institution to the city.
First off, they noted that not only is Manchester one of the fastest-growing cities in the UK and, indeed Europe, but thanks to city centre development and the likes of the ever-expanding Media City, Manchester has become a true “digital hub”.
She also went on to state the roadmap for people joining the intelligence service is starting to change and while people used to join the likes of their Cheltenham HQ “at the age of 18 and stay for 40 years”, the demographic is changing and they want to seek out more diversity.
Part of the reason they invited the kids along is they wanted to show it’s more about “aptitude and skills, not just getting a degree”. It’s not just about reaching out further but adapting the recruitment process.
They also believe that as well as the uni and tech culture acting as a great feeder for GCHQ, the fact that Manchester is a huge melting pot of people from all walks of life will help them “evolve” as a group and they hope to start soaking up “untapped talent all across the North West“.
What’s it like being a spy?
It’s a question most people have wondered at one time or another — usually after a trip to the cinema or watching Line of Duty— but we wanted to know exactly how close to the movies working for GCHQ is and, thankfully, many of the people were more than happy to oblige.
Although most said being somewhat evasive becomes second nature when once you accept the job, it really is only your immediate family that you can reveal their roles to and even then, they can’t really divulge what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Again, it’s worth reminding that, for all intents and purposes, these lot are spies and they genuinely have to keep up the lie. We especially enjoyed so many of them simply telling their friends they “work in marketing”.
On the other hand, despite having to withhold details even between certain colleagues with different clearance levels, Liz insists that they “don’t tend to moan about the nuts and bolts” of the job but things like the commute and how the price of Greggs keeps going up. Their office is above Greggs, for context.
She also admitted it’s “pretty exciting” to be able to do things that would be considered illegal for most people to do, not to mention immensely cool to be able to tell your kids “mums a spy”. Fair.
What are GCHQ working on right now?
Beyond trying to reveal “the human side” behind these otherwise faceless people, demystifying espionage and intelligence work, as well as trying to earn some trust through increased transparency, GCHQ also gave some insight as to what exactly it is they’re looking into at present.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about national security without asking them about Putin and the Russian invasion, which they confirmed is obviously top of the priority list, declaring the support of Ukraine as their “biggest task at the moment”.
They also went on to explain that cyberattacks from the likes of China are also of concern, adding that they are carrying out counter-terrorism, software development and sweeps, as well as various routine security checks on a regular basis.
Liz also went on to assure that GCHQ as a whole is “working on all the missions, covering all the hostile states and pretty much covering everything you can think of”. It was genuinely a relief to know that we’re in safe hands.
If you think a career at GCHQ Manchester might be something you’re interested in, you can check out their vacancies down below and you also can also buy their Puzzles for Spies book HERE.