"My years of experience will not be wasted": reflections on the PET Alumni Evening

"I saw more degrees than there would be at a Three Degrees tribute act competition."

...

In early September, PET alumni gathered at our annual party in London, to celebrate former learners and share inspiring stories of education and career success.

During the evening ,we also announced the winners of this year’s Enterprise Awards, kindly supported by The Topinambour Trust. From manicures to track safety, web development to barbering, this year’s winners have ambitious plans to enter a range of industries. 

Read about our Enterprise winners 

Here, former prisoner and criminal justice blogger David Breakspear reflects on his first PET alumni party.

Tuesday the 4th September 2018 will be a day that I will never forget. 

I will find the evening difficult to describe/explain without overusing superlatives. Okay, let's get the basics out of the way. There was a good turn-out, there was a buffet laid on, the level and choice of music was right and the staff at the venue were ever so friendly and helpful. The facilities in which the venue was held were excellent. That's that bit out of the way.

The following is from a post that I wrote on Facebook the following day: "I was fortunate last night to have spent the evening with a group of incredible people whom, I may add, are not only ex-prisoners but most like me still on licence from prison. The inspiration, desire and passion to not just change ourselves but to use our experiences while standing up to be counted in a concerted effort to influence change – for my sake, my peer’s sake, for your sake and for the sake of society as a whole –  was amazing to witness.

“Surely no one can argue against wanting a prison system fit for purpose. People make mistakes, we will always have crime but please remember everyone has a story to tell. The sentence is the punishment, everything else should be geared to change not continued judgement. I also have to say that I saw more degrees than there would be at a Three Degrees tribute act competition. I am honoured to be an alumni of the Prisoners’ Education Trust and an associate member of the Prisoner Learning Alliance."

"To be able to discuss prison issues with someone at the total opposite end of the criminal justice system was an incredible experience."

I came away from the evening feeling like a somebody, that my years of experience will now not be wasted as I, and my fellow alumni, will be able to have a direct influence over education policy in prisons. It makes total sense that the best people to assist in improving areas of life are those who have seen and lived the harsher and darker side of that life.

There were many highlights of the evening for me: the poetry that was read live by its author Jamal Khan was spine-tingling, his words spoke to your very soul. To see a probation officer travel all the way from Cumbria to watch her client pick up an Enterprise award gave me hope that the good ones do still exist. I was also fortunate enough to interview, on camera, the Media, Communications & Alumni manager Katy Oglethorpe. Katy's passion and dedication to PET is unwavering, which benefits the prisoner who uses the education system in prison immensely and I cannot thank her and the team at PET enough for that.

To me, however, the main highlight of the evening was to be able to interview the President of PET, His Honour John Samuels QC. In his previous life, Mr. Samuels was a London judge: to be able to sit and discuss prison issues with someone at the total opposite end of the criminal justice system was an incredible experience for me. To listen to Mr. Samuels’ vision for the future of sentencing, prison and PET fills me with hope that there are better times ahead for real change and for real prison reform.