PET Chair and alumni receive Queen’s Birthday Honours
27 Jun 2017
The Chair of Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), along with two former prison learners, are among the high flyers named in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
"I am a fervent believer in the capacity of people to change"
Judge and legal consultant Alexandra Marks received a CBE for her contribution to justice, while Chris Syrus (pictured centre) and Frank Harris (pictured right) each received BEMs for their work with young people in their communities.
Described as an “over-achiever” in a recent profile by Law Gazette, Alexandra spent 20 years as a partner in law firm Linklaters, where she remains a consultant. She is a deputy High Court judge and a commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), and has chaired both PET and the Prisoner Learning Alliance since 2012.
“I became involved in PET because I am a fervent believer in the capacity of people to change. PET's work is proof of that capacity: our alumni are wonderful examples of the astonishing success of those who've been given access to educational opportunities in prison.
“I hugely admire the ability of those individuals to make the most of the educational opportunities PET offers. It is both rewarding and humbling to see prisoners who have transformed their lives through education, not just within their families, communities and workplaces but in society generally.”
Two such individuals – Chris Syrus and Frank Harris – join Alexandra on the Honours list.
"When I got to tell my mum she was so overjoyed and proud.”
Based in Croydon, South London, Chris works to get young people who are at risk of offending or re-offending into work, education or training. His social enterprise – Syrus Consultancy C.I.C - runs workshops using the creative arts, particularly music production, to help young adults develop skills and build identities away from crime. He also runs violence reduction and personal development workshops in four adult prisons.
“Being awarded a BEM means the most for the people who have supported me through thick and thin. When I got to tell my mum she was so overjoyed and proud.”
“From taking my course in prison in 2004 this is what I wanted to do – engage with those most in need and try to have an impact on their lives. A lot of young people don’t believe they are intelligent enough and they think crime is the only way to make it. I try to use my personal experience to help them think differently.”
Chris, 37, himself entered prison as a young man with a poor experience of education. But he embraced learning in custody and successfully applied for funding from PET to complete a course in music production and then begin an Open University degree in Psychology.
Chris now employs seven people, several of whom are also former prisoners. He is also a published poet and a spoken word artist.
"Education has allowed me to join in society and to give something genuinely back."
Frank Harris was awarded his BEM for services to adult learning and skills, for his tireless work in this area since leaving prison a decade ago. Frank, 57 , currently works for Single Homeless Project charity, working with vulnerable adults to avoid eviction and benefits sanctions. He previously worked at St Giles Trust, where he helped people with convictions find work, housing and other support services.
"When in prison, families and loved ones feel it the most, ultimately, my award is something tangible that helps me to say sorry and also speaks to my distance from offending, my growth and change."
Frank had been in and out of prison for more than 30 years when he discovered education in prison. Having left school at 12, he achieved his first qualification – an ‘A’ in GCSE English – aged 44. He was later funded by PET to take three counselling qualifications and went on to gain a degree in Criminology.
"Gaining this award gives me chance to be a role model - there are very few of these in my community, particularly not from the background I come from. One of the reasons why I wanted to give up a life of crime was to leave a legacy other than ex-offender to my children and family. The award has set me on the road to doing that, they call it social capital. I’ve always been a taker but now I’m a giver."
Frank has also worked closely with the PET for a number of years including on the Smart Rehabilitation report, which was launched in Parliament in 2013.
Both Frank and Chris are part of PET’s alumni network, a community for ex-prisoners who remain passionate about education.