28 March 2019
Mark left prison in 2018 after serving a Discretionary Life Sentence. Now he’s heading back inside as part of PeoplePlus’ Wayout TV – delivering educational content through televisions in cells.
I wanted to change my path through life. I needed to find something that I could get my teeth into while in custody.
Who wants to end up behind the high walls and razor-like topped fences that surround our prison estate? It would be my guess that not many of us would want to go to prison, let alone want to return there after serving a life sentence. Let me take this time to explain why I am going back.
When I came to prison I had what I would describe as an average education. I had at least gained some qualifications, and built myself a career; I had cooked in pubs, restaurants and for students at Cambridge University and for royalty. In 1992 things changed and my mental health deteriorated. I slipped into a downward spiral which ended with me being given a Discretionary Life Sentence and I served my time at a variety of prisons including HMP Wormwood Scrubs, HMP Grendon and HMP Sudbury.
I left prison in 2003 and by 2011 I was a father to two young boys, a business owner with my then partner and working too many hours. Between us, my partner and I clocked over 175 hours a week at work, and this was taking its toll on my mental health, and on the relationship I had with my boys and their mum. I committed a crime that meant I was recalled to custody.
It was at this time that I wanted to change my path through life. I needed to find something that I could get my teeth into while in custody. I knew that I was good at telling stories, and I knew that I did not want to return to kitchen work. I sought support from PET to help fund a course. I studied with a distance learning college that specialised in training freelance writers, and I went on to have work published in Inside Time, The Friend and other media outlets.
When I moved to HMP Wayland I came across a project that was to have a significant role in my life. Wayout TV – owned by the prison education provider PeoplePlus – was in its infancy, but it was effective. It streamed two television channels into prison cells, and yet the programmes were being made or edited on site. I eventually joined the team as a compliancy editor. It was my role to watch the bought-in material to check that we did not breach HMPPS guidelines. It was at this time that my learning journey took another path, and I enrolled with the Open University on a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. At the time of writing this piece I am almost half way through.
I left prison on 14 February last year. I kept in touch with Wayout TV and soon after they commissioned me to write a Creative Writing course. This is now presented as a workbook and three videos that are broadcast on the Way2Learn channel.
This time I am going back to be part of a system that can be life-changing if prisoners want it to be
PeoplePlus then invited me to speak at their conference. This was an amazing opportunity for me to thank the tutors for the part that they played in recreating Mark Humphries, and to also encourage them in the work that they do. I guess that it isn’t always easy turning up at a prison day in and day out to teach and then not see an end result.
Earlier this year, I was also invited to speak at a House of Lords event for PeoplePlus, to mark Wayout TV reaching 25,000 prisoners daily. The celebratory event was attended by people from Government and Parliament, prison governors, Open University representatives and PeoplePlus staff. As the Managing Director introduced me, he announced that PeoplePlus were offering me employment within the Wayout team.
I have to admit that, even though I knew some moments before that the offer was going to be made, it was still emotional, and my talk changed as I spoke about why I believed Wayout was important, and what education means to prisoners. So you see it is with a glad heart that I am going back to prison. Only this time I am going back to be part of a system that can be life-changing if prisoners want it to be.
Prison has proven that people can pick up whatever labels they want, but they do not have to keep them
I am also part of PET’s Advisory Group – a group of ex-prisoners that have been supported by the Trust and are now living in the community. We meet to discuss different aspects of the charity’s work supporting prisoners in their education. I’ve also been able to attend several training sessions as part of the group.
Prison has been an emotional rollercoaster for me, it has been a time of searching and changing. It has proven that people can pick up whatever labels they want, but they do not have to keep them. Like the mythical phoenix, rehabilitation can cause people to emerge afresh and become the real person that was hidden inside them.
Help champion learning in prison by sharing your experience of studying inside. If you’re interested in telling your story, get in touch with our Communications Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Prisoners' Education Trust 2019