What does education mean to you? People in prison respond

Home > What does education mean to you? People in prison respond

01 July 2019

Six talented artists from prisons across England have won PET’s Paint-a-Postcard competition, celebrating the charity’s 30th anniversary. The cards then carried messages from over 50 serving prisoners, explaining what education meant to them. 

We asked entrants to get creative and design entries based on PET courses. They didn’t disappoint. The winning entries brought to life some of our most popular subjects – from Business Start-up to Plumbing Installation Theory.

The flora and fauna of PET’s curriculum were also represented, with one winner hand-drawing a garden in bloom for our Principles of Horticulture course, while another produced their own vivid take on Fisheries Management.

What does education mean to you?

We sent copies of the winning entries to prisons across England and Wales and asked prisoners to answer the question: ‘What does education mean to you?’

Over 50 people responded and their answers touched on everything from mental health and relationships to personal growth and employment.

Take a look at some of the messages in this slideshow.

Many postcards focussed on education’s power to transform and redefine identities. A PET alumnus who worked as a distance learning co-ordinator whilst in prison wrote:

[Education] is a way for a prisoner to redefine themselves and their lives. Education is the passport to a future that’s different from the past.

Another respondent, Jamie, added to the sentiment:

For us prisoners, education is a second chance. Not just a second chance at work, but a second chance to find out who we are. That is what education means to me.

The messages also shone a light on the positive effect education can have on mental health. Daniel, who was Highly Commended for his entry to the Postcard competition, wrote:

Without the access to education in prison, I truly would not be here. Suicide is a constant companion, often much closer than any of us would wish to admit. Without a determined direction, I am certain I would not be here writing this, having completed a degree comparable course with a grade of ‘Distinction’. Thank you all, from not only prisoners, but also their families who would be without them if not for you.

Another entry read:

Doing prison time isn’t the hardest of things, but doing it in a healthy AND positive way, takes some effort, Education allows me to not just get out the cell, but learn soemthing new, challenge myself and get some fulfilment. EDUCATION HELPS KEEP MY BRAIN ALIVE!

According to many of the messages, education offers the chance to broaden horizons – in more than one way. One prison learner, writing from HMP Ashfield, stated that education gave him:

The ability to feel free in [an] enclosed and stifled environment.

A respondent at HMP Pentoville wrote:

Education removes any barriers in my mind. It removes the borders of my knowledge and wisdom to embrace fresh fields of understanding. It is uplifting! It is life!

Jason put it simply:

Studying helps me escape the bars and walls that surround us.

But perhaps this poetic entry sums it up best. To this respondent, education means:

A path, a-maze
A ladder, to rise
A friend, to help
A colleague, a family
proud of me.


The winning postcard designs were:

  • Business Start-up – Anonymous, HMP Buckley Hall
  • Certificate in Mentoring – Sean, HMP Dartmoor
  • Creative Writing – Ben, HMP Isle of Wight
  • Fisheries Management – Anonymous, HMP Buckley Hall
  • Plumbing Installation Theory – D, HMP Eastwood Park
  • Principles of Horticulture – Rhian, HMP Send

With over 120 entries from nearly 30 prisons, it fell to the three judges – PET’s Grants Programme Manager, Suzan, and two artists previously funded by PET, Erika Flowers and John Costi – to make the tough decision and select the winners. Of such a high quality was the competition, the panel picked a further 27 Highly Commended entries.

The Highly Commended entrants were:
Abul, Ben, Dan, Daniel, Danielle, Eugenii, Fiona, Garry, Isleigh, Jimmy, Lee, Lisa, Mr Bailey, Mr Marsh, Mr Murphy, Nigel x2, Nizami, Peter, Russell, Shay, and the entrants from Buckley Hall.

Thank you to all the talented artists who entered the postcard competition and to the people who sent in their thoughtful answers. Congratulations also to all the Winning and Highly Commended entrants.

© Prisoners' Education Trust 2019

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