Frank Harris: "I’ve always been a taker but now I’m a giver"

Londoner Frank Harris, 53, had been in and out of prison for more than 30 years when he found his ‘way out’ of crime through education in prison with the support of PET and other charities.

“The first course I did with PET gave me confidence and helped me to get a job within 7 months of leaving prison and that was the first job I’ve ever had”, says Frank.

Seven years later he is now a final year degree student, a role model for his children and grandchildren and a volunteer for the charity St Giles Trust where he helps other people with convictions find work, housing and other support services.

Like many prisoners, Frank did not have a good experience of school and after he was expelled at 12 years old he had nothing to do and began getting involved in crime. After several sentences, dealing with homelessness and addiction, in his mid-40s he met a prison teacher who “saw a little light in him” and encouraged him to study his GCSEs. He gained a grade A GCSE in English and went on to independently study distance learning counselling courses funded by PET. Once he was released, Frank furthered his education at City Lit College and was awarded an NIACE Adult Learner’s award in 2009.

But though education has helped him gain employment, Frank says it has done more for him than that:

“I’ve always been a taker but now I’m a giver – to my family; I have sons and grandchildren – I also give to the wider community through the mentoring I do. It’s allowed me to join in society and to give something genuinely back.

I used to wake up in the morning and think where am I going to find the money to sleep somewhere tonight? That was thinking about myself. I find myself now thinking about Syria.”

He says education was an absolutely integral part of his ongoing desistance from crime and that it simply wouldn’t have happened without the support of his teachers, prison staff and charities like PET. Having qualifications is also helping him to form a more positive identity too, as he says: “When I’m called an ex-offender, I can say, well actually I’m a final year degree student”.

Tune in to PET's BBC Radio 4 Appeal to hear more about Frank on Sunday 14 September at 7.55am and 9.25pm.