11 May 2018
By going in to speak to kids I can give them another perspective
I was always quite a smart kid, I knew how to pass exams. I got all B’s and an A in my GCSEs, and went to college with the far-distant dream of becoming an architect. This being said, my day-to-day thoughts were never on education – my mind was occupied by the ‘roads’. I had just turned 17 when my case happened. Four months into college I was arrested and kicked out.
I was out on bail for about two years and throughout this time I couldn’t study, work or go back into my area, so I was just around – doing nothing constructive at all. When I was arrested and charged I realised I did not want this to be my reality, I knew I was better than what I had become so I finally decided to make a complete change in my life.
I knew that a key to help me with the decision I had made was to learn. However when I got to a London Young Offenders’ Institute there was little opportunity to study anything meaningful. I spent most of my time doing manual jobs – cleaning the wing, working on the servery and stuff like that. I was only able to retake basic qualifications which I already had qualifications for. There were so many hurdles to doing anything meaningful; even for a prison there was a lot of waiting, a lot of nothingness.
Things improved when I was moved to an adult prison. They had systems in place to help people who wanted to do different levels of education. I was able to read! And not just newspapers and magazines but books about inspirational figures, history and the world around us. It was a mechanism of escaping, and discovering things about the world outside prison politics or the area I grew up in. About two-and-a-half years into my sentence, I was in the library and I saw a book on the shelf called ‘The Stock Market Explained’ with a picture of a black guy on the cover. I thought ‘What’s that about? A black guy talking about finance?’ It really wasn’t something you see everyday. So I picked it up.
I ended up reading it twice, and then all the rest of the books in the library about finance, investing and business – I was hooked. I read all about business magnates like Warren Buffet. His demeanour, style, and way of looking at the world really inspired me to see where I could go. It put me on a journey to wanting to do the same and set my own path.
As much as finance and business is in my head, using my story and making sure my experiences don’t go to waste is in my heart.
I applied to PET in 2015, to do an Open University Access module on People, Work and Society. It was the closest thing I could get to learning about trade and economics. Before starting the course I had a lot of self-doubt. So many years after leaving all kinds of formal education, I was thinking – can I do this? Can I still retain information? Can I write essays? Also, as you can imagine, trying to learn in prison is hard. You have all these distractions and limited facilities. There are mountains upon mountains of difficulties. But the fact that I knew exactly what I was doing it for – my future prospects, to stay true to my decision to change and because I knew it was worthwhile – I chose to stick with it.
I’ve been out for 15 months now. I tried as much as I could to hit the ground running. Managing to come out of prison with qualifications was reaffirming to me, but also it showed other people what I had done. I used my qualifications as evidence that I wasn’t just wasting away, using the situation to blame other people or blame myself – but that I tried to do something.
From picking up that book in the library, I knew I wanted to build my career in finance. When I was released I didn’t know anyone in the City at all, but through networking and getting opportunities to meet people, who knew people, who knew people, I was able to go to lunch with all these ‘City’ people and tell them my background. I got an unpaid work placement in a financial tech company and as soon as my working restrictions were off I was offered a full-time job as a Business Analyst. Today, my job involves transforming raw data into useful information for the company, as well as marketing, managing client relationships and sales. Being exposed to so many aspects of the business is amazing as my ambition is to run my own investment company soon.
As much as finance and business is in my head, using my story and making sure my experiences don’t go to waste is in my heart. I volunteer with a few charities, including with St Giles Trust on its SOS gangs programme – going into schools, youth clubs and Pupil Referral Units to talk to kids already deeply involved in gangs, or on the verge of turning to gang culture. It’s important to me as I didn’t have any people around when I was young who would have made me think what I was doing was wrong – I was 80 to 90% sure that everything I was doing was justified because it was all I knew.
I hope that by going in to speak to kids I can give them another perspective, especially with everything crazy going on with knife and gun crime and the roads in general. Someone experienced, who has lived through it, can tell them, ‘This doesn’t have to be your reality – you can do other things.’ Even if my words can’t inspire them, just my image could. In the same way seeing the image of the black guy taking about the stock market inspired me – a black guy wearing a suit, who isn’t talking about drug dealing or the road but business and education – that’s powerful. It might spark something in them to think ‘I can do something else – it’s possible.’
During the process of learning you don’t realise that you’re not only feeding your mind, but feeding your self-belief
There are many young people in prison who want to, and are capable of doing higher education but don’t have the means to do it. Imagine I was slightly less committed to changing my reality – those hurdles would have taken me back to what I was doing before. An inmate could be the next Leonardo DiCaprio if they were able to do a drama course, or be the next Albert Einstein if they were able to do a Physics degree. It is worth investing in that one person to make sure that they can do what they need to do to make sure they don’t go back to the life they were living.
Doing the OU course and getting a qualification at the end still inspires today. When I first started working I felt a bit out-of-depth. But then I look back to that time when I was asked to write a 2000-word essay in a couple of weeks, in a prison! And then actually getting it done – I know there’s nothing impossible for me. During the process of learning you don’t realise that you’re not only feeding your mind, but feeding your self-belief and feeding the feeling inside you that says, ‘You can do this’. Every time you overcome a challenge, you’re building your tolerance and ability to win!
If I was to give a message to people in prison, it would be to just believe they can do it – look for something to study connected to what you want to do, even if it’s loosely related. You literally don’t know the journey you can begin just by opening a single book.
© Prisoners' Education Trust 2019