Paddy, PET alumnus | 26 March 2018
In my reading of Othello, I learnt about empathy. In Of Mice and Men I learnt about the victim and how our actions have an impact on other people. In Jude the Obscure, I learnt to love and grieve at the same time.
I first went into a classroom reluctantly, when the prison ran a regime that ensured each inmate spent half a day at education. I complied in silent disgust, having so many negative memories of being bullied and constantly being made to feel stupid. At the age of 37 I still believed, deeply, that I was.
In the classroom I sat with my back to the wall and made no eye contact. I was on full alert and ready to attack the first person that reinforced that negative feeling inside of me.
It was a stand-in teacher who asked me to write a story about a good memory I had from the past. To my surprise I found I enjoyed myself.
I completed my GCSEs in the next year or so and won an award for ‘Best Learner’. I loved learning and read everything I could get my hands and eyes on.
The next huge educational experience I had was being part of setting up a Student Council at HMP Wymott. I was voted Chairman by my peers, which was a huge shock to me but an opportunity I relished. This became the most exciting thing I had ever participated in in a learning environment. We, the learners, were given a voice in what we enjoyed and what worked for us.
I am a huge believer in learner voice. To feel that you are being listened to, and that your words can change the experience for you and those around you, can only be constructive. As a prisoner all your decisions are taken away, and this may be the only decision that an inmate gets to make – it was for me. This is where prison education and the prison system differ. Education is about freedom, free will and free speech. The prison system is too often about the opposite.
Inspired by this experience, I decided to take the biggest step on my educational path. Through PET, I applied to start an OU degree. Now don’t underestimate this – for me, who could not spell ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ at the age of 13, this was the scariest thing I had ever challenged myself to do, even more so than standing in front of a judge.
I attribute ALL my rehabilitation to education. In my reading of Othello, I learnt about empathy. In Of Mice and Men I learnt about the victim and how our actions have an impact on other people. In Jude the Obscure, I learnt to love and grieve at the same time.
That is how important education is in prison. Giving someone a voice can seep into his soul and have an impact on how he goes forward in life and contributes in a proactive manner and becomes a valid member of society.
My future life is as far apart from my past offending life as it could be – I have dreams and aspirations that excite me fully. Work and more studying lay ahead, and so does a fruitful and offence-free life.
I have reached this moment because a teacher years before had given me the freedom to write a story from my own mind and emotion and had then opened in me a willingness to change. I spent most of my life in ignorance but once I became educated, I lost my anger and instead of hurting people, I wanted to help them. I simply became civilised.
© Prisoners' Education Trust 2020