Although I share the many negative aspects of my life, I merely do so in order to share the journey. There is no point in campaigning for reform through sharing my own experiences with only half the story. For me though, it is the positive aspects which not only mean more but are more important. Many lessons can be learnt from positivism just as they can from a negative experience. To blow one’s own trumpet, without coming across as egotistical or even sycophantic, isn’t an easy balance, however, I am extremely proud of what I managed to achieve during my time as a serving prisoner, why shouldn’t I be? I believe it shows that even in an environment lacking in hope but full of despair that there can be a positive end result (eventually), especially when people believe in you and support you, an experience I’m still finding just as humbling.
Another important aspect in my life, and an importance not lost on me, is education. In this instance, I, of course, am referring to education within secure environments, although not always in relation to academia, however, I believe it will also highlight the overall importance in the subject of education (excuse the pun). Do I personally wish I was able to gain my education in the conventional way? No! Not really. A reason perhaps for my featured image?
Little did I know, as an innocent eight-year-old, I would be embarking on a journey of education, along with a training programme unlike any other that would see the barometer ‘set fair’ for my current status.
My secure environment education began ironically – and coincidentally not long after being kicked out the education system as a 14-year-old – within a secure unit. Ironically, coincidentally? You choose, but I spent my 16th and 18th birthdays in a secure environment setting. My 21st, although spent in freedom, is still one I wish to forget due to my mum passing away two weeks later and two days before her 60th. My mum and dad due to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary Boxing Day later that year. I’ve never really liked Christmas, or birthdays come to that, since.
My education of empathy began a lot later on in my life. It was in 2005, whilst at HMP Blundeston, where I found the wonders attached to mentoring. My first role was with Shannon Trust, as a what was known then, Toe-by-Toe mentor, this would quickly be followed by becoming a listener trained by the Samaritans. Both roles remain as important to me as they did 14 years ago, and I am pleased to be able to continue to support both these incredible charities now and in the future.
My education of secure environment education, although a few dabbles in between, started in earnest at HMP Wayland in 2009. It actually started through no choice of my own. This was due to an unproven case of suspicion which led to SIR’s, a ghosting and a security file. Education the only option available to me. A position, considering my actual guilt at the time, extremely acceptable to me, and one I used to my own advantage. Cass Evans is the lady I acknowledge as to who unlocked the initial quest for knowledge and citizenship. The bug became like an addiction; however, this addiction was far healthier and far, far less expensive than the illegal drugs and alcohol I used to be best friends with.
It all started with a City & Guilds level 2 in ‘Assisted Learning Support’. The classroom I was assisting in at the time was English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). I’ll probably be shot by the PC brigade but the only way I can describe that classroom is to compare it to the late 70’s, early 80’s British sitcom ‘Mind Your Language’, but our classroom was full of mutual respect. If only some of our multi-cultural communities experienced that room, it was a joy to be a part of it.
I was asked by Cass to enrol in a new class she would be tutoring herself, and so a few weeks later I started my next City & Guilds course. A level 3 one this time in: Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS). PTLLS did absolutely nothing for me following my eventual release in August 2010 (I entered the system May 08). However, what it did enable me to do, was to fulfil my unplanned plan I knew nothing about. Almost bang on with the systems predictions, within 12 months (have to keep to the reoffending schedule that was expected of us), almost to the day, in August 2011 I started a new, smaller sentence, this time 18 months. Aside from a 2-week, necessary break, I completed the whole of the 18 months in prison. This was due to the strict licence conditions placed on me that I didn’t agree with or wish to accept, along with a residential condition of an AP (not my first, nor ever successful). The nature of the hostel (and not mine) placing even more, in my opinion, restrictions of movement and, therefore, extra pressure to conform. Not the best mix. So, after being released on the 29th February 2012 I was recalled back to prison where I was free once again. Being institutionalised has that effect. Education, empathy and a whole load of citizenship are what I take from prison. Lock-down, inclement weather and the occasional disagreement contained within the unwritten instruction manual, not only that I had other things, more important things, like change and reform to worry about rather than worry about the things I couldn’t control. But I did take pleasure in closing my own door before last orders, it can be difficult to get to be alone in prison sometimes. Then again, with education in my life, along with its many characters and personalities more numerous than my own, I wasn’t ever alone, even when at my loneliest. That for me is education in a nutshell, it just keeps on giving, and freely.
I was released from this term on the last day of November in 2012. My liberty this time lasting until the following July, when attempting to run away from myself to the beautiful, picturesque area of the Brecon Beacons in the Rhondda Valleys of Tylorstown, South Wales, I found myself, on remand, in Knox Road again. This time, however, HMP Cardiff and not HMP Norwich, trust me, the irony wasn’t lost in the reception of Cardiff. I was successful with a judge in chambers bail application and at the end of November, part of my conditions was to stay with family in Kent. A call from my brief, the second week of December informing me the case had been thrown out by the crown court, meant at least Christmas that year was an enjoyable one. But the following summer would see me hit with new bail conditions as I was facing a lump for a serious assault. Fortunately, this too was eventually thrown out due to the credibility of the victim/witness and his propensity for story telling through a police statement. The pressure consciously not felt, as I was a long way into my smorgasbord of drugs and alcohol once again by this stage to not worry. Not exactly father of the year material, more loyalty shown to a piece of foil and a pipe than to my children and grandchild. A few more bad choices would see me arrive at my inevitable rock bottom, fortunately, it wasn’t to be a one-way ticket. I was at the beginning of the end of my training, although education never stops. As student or teacher.
My final sentence was where my whole life finally made sense. I still had one lesson to learn in prison, you can’t run with the hares and the hounds. My character understood and controlled, my personalities placated and no more need for medication. Dedication would be my new medication. No more manufactured legal/illegal poison for me. I replaced the poison with an elixir of knowledge and understanding of the self. Have you ever tried to complete a jigsaw without looking at the picture?
As I mentioned my education of education within a secure environment started at HMP Wayland with the Curriculum Manager, Cass Evans, coincidentally it was taken over by the Curriculum manager at HMP Norwich, Deborah Stewart. I not only became Deborah’s mentor in the ICT class which she tutored, I also mentored courses I had completed myself.
Radio production, Health & Safety, presentation skills, creative writing with Jacob Huntley, a lecturer in English Literature at University of East Anglia and when on the curriculum, a self-awareness course.
As well as completing a City & Guilds level 3 in Advice and Guidance through St. Giles Trust for whom I would become a peer adviser.
I know that sounds a lot but bear in mind that there were 11 education sessions during the working 5-day week. Plenty of classes, limited mentors however, B cat locals struggle to hold on to those they need sometimes. Early mornings, night-time bang up, Friday afternoons and most of the weekend was for me and my own studies. I was, and am, studying for a BSc (hons) degree in criminology and psychological studies through, in their 50th year, The Open University, funded by a student loan from Student Finance England. Although in the build up to my degree I studied for an access module with The Open University this time funded by, in this, their 30th year, the wonderful Prisoners’ Education Trust.
A collective responsibility, like nothing else before, behind me. I took the decision to change but I owe my appreciation to those that enabled it, including the uniformed men and women of our landings. An appreciation and gratitude that I fully intend in rewarding with my success.