'I was rejected from university because of my record, now I’m campaigning for fair treatment'
Georgie at PET's 2018 Academic Symposium with the OU's Ruth McFarlane (L) and PET's Nina Champion (R)
"I think ex-offenders, reformed characters; whatever you want to call us – have a lot to offer: a lot of ambition, a lot of drive, a lot of passion. We probably make the best students just for the sheer fact that we want it so desperately."
I didn’t really ever class myself as an academic when I was younger. I didn’t engage at school – learning just didn’t seem to be something I was interested in. But when I found myself at Her Majesty’s Pleasure aged 21 it was a pivotal point in my life. Being away from normality and being isolated gave me the opportunity to draw a better perspective of my own life. I decided I needed to pull my finger out and do more – there are no excuses now, I thought, the opportunity was there for me to change my life and I’d be the fool not to take it; no-one else was going to do it for me.
The first course that I engaged in was a carpentry course. Picking up a saw for me was like trying to read Japanese, but I took to it, and really enjoyed it. That’s what really fuelled the desire to do more, and I did. I took every practical course that was available. I would never have imagined myself to become interested in things like that, but I surprised myself and I think every day I continue to surprise myself. I’m so keen to learn now.
Post-prison, one of the biggest problems I faced was not being able to gain employment. I had all these skills, all these new qualifications but nowhere to apply them. So I took it upon myself to carve my own way and create my own opportunities. I started a small building maintenance company. We now maintain a portfolio of 1,200 properties and employ anywhere up to 25 people at one time. We’re doing alright!
I enjoy my job, but I want to do more. I can still feel this fire burning and I just want to go out there and do a lot more; to continue to push and challenge myself. A skill I’ve always had, but never really known what to do with, is the ability to draw. I was really fortunate to gain the work experience at a film studio after release, where I learnt to draft or technically draw. I enjoyed creating film sets and really challenging myself to create scale drawings and props that would be used on set. It was the first time I thought, ‘I can really do this’.
That’s why, last year, I started looking into doing a degree in architecture. I found a university in London, put together a portfolio, and applied. When I received an offer of a place I was elated; I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was going to be the start of something new. But then, on the day of enrolment, the university withdrew my application. In an email, they said the reason for reversing their decision was the fact of my criminal record. This was despite the fact it was an offence I had committed in 2009, and I was fully discharged in 2012 with no restrictions against me as an individual.
I was destroyed, heartbroken. I’m still a little bit gobsmacked to be honest. But I’m not happy to lie down and just accept this. I feel it is necessary to fight for change. That’s why I’m joining PET, The Longford Trust and Unlock in their campaign to encourage universities to give people with convictions a fair chance. From personal experience, I understand how damaging this sort of rejection can be for the individual. I don’t believe universities or any form of higher education institution should be willing to knock back someone just because of their criminal record – I think ex-offenders, reformed characters; whatever you want to call them – have a lot to offer: a lot of ambition, a lot of drive, a lot of passion. We probably make the best students just for the sheer fact that we want it so desperately. I’m a firm believer it’s so important to be able to give people the chance to be more and to do more with their lives.
I often say I’ve got a lot further on in the last few years post-prison than I ever did at the beginning of my life, and that’s all because of how I believe in myself and how other people have begun to believe in me as well. My family and the friends I surround myself with now are really keen for me to embark on this journey. They see something in me. It’s nice to have that from people – it’s a different kind of feeling and relationship from what I’ve known in the past. Seeing me get into university raised their confidence in me, and I think they feel the pain of my current situation too – the knockbacks, the obstacles – they just want me to go on to succeed.
I’m still in a struggle at the moment to find a university that will take me on and give me an opportunity. My ultimate goal is to be part of creating a building that can be a central location for people to come together to create social change. I want to create opportunities for others, including by employing people who have been in prison.
I don’t know where life can go now – that is the exciting thing. Joining this campaign and continuing to fight for my place at university is part of it – it’s an exciting process that I’m willing to embark on.
Since being interviewed by PET, the London university that rejected Georgie has reversed its decision, and has made Georgie an unconditional offer to start his architecture degree. He remains part of a campaign to convince universities to treat students with convictions fairly.