Fit for Release: Neil's Story

Neil, a PET learner, shares how he went from involvement in organised crime to working for a major gym chain.

From a young age I was constantly in trouble with the Old Bill. I never really went to school - me and my pals would always sign in and then slip off all day. I never wanted to work so education didn't matter for me. I just lived for the day and never thought about the future - I was young it didn't matter. I never got to sit my exams as I was sent to Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution at a young age.

I gradually got involved in more organised crime and received 10 years for bank robbery. Later I got another 11 years for doing the same thing but armed.

It's all I knew how to do. But how long could I keep doing this for? I was getting older and things were changing. I’d spent so long in jail I was falling behind in life, so I had to come up with a plan. I also needed help, but I didn't have a clue what was available to us prisoners. What I knew is that I liked the gym and was good at it, and had passed a few gym courses as I worked as a gym orderly. That’s when a physical education instructor told me about the distance learning Open University Access courses funded by Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET).

It was either make a living and career out of this, or get a 20 wrapped around me next time I decided to run in a bank, so I applied to PET to do a Introduction to Sport, Fitness and Management course. It was quite straight forward getting everything set up, and it was funded which was an added bonus. It took me two years to do. It was hard and it did take real concentration to get through, but I needed to guarantee I could work as a personal trainer on release. I knew that when I got out I needed to keep busy and earn money, and this kept me motivated.

I was getting older and things were changing. I’d spent so long in jail I was falling behind in life, so I had to come up with a plan.

Weight lifting in HMP Parc, Rebecca Radmore PhotographyThere was help available while I was doing the course - I was able to get internet print-offs sent in, books, and a call to my course tutor from outside, which helped a lot. The education staff also did all they could for me. It may not have been quick at times, (we know how slow jail can be), but I always got what I needed in the end.

After serving nearly 12 years I have now been out for five months and have had so many job interviews. They were all impressed by my qualifications but my serious record has been a problem. I got to the point when I had been offered four jobs, but when they saw all my pre-convictions they changed their mind. I never gave up though, and finally this month I started a job as a personal trainer in a major gym chain.

Five months looking isn’t bad going. The qualifications made a massive difference as I have plenty of routes to earn money within the gym. I'm 35 now and it just proves that it is never too late to make something of yourself and have a good career in something you love but also pays well, if you put the work in and learn. While you’re in jail what else are you going to do? It is the perfect place - you have too much time on your hands. If you really want to you can turn it around; the help is there and the courses are funded. It’s easier than you realise.

To support someone like Neil access education and gain the potential to change their lives, visit here