Never too late

The image below is a post I put up earlier today. My comment doesn’t really explain the post fully and there is so much more to it, so I thought I would write a blog and share my journey that I’ve been on with The Open University.

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I had convinced myself during the off-season that now I’d finally completed level one of my degree I would take a break from my studies. Plus I’d also be receiving a certificate. Physical evidence of what I’d achieved. That was until I received an email informing me that enrollment is now open. I thought to myself “I’ll just have a quick look, can’t do no harm,”. I then found myself contemplating not whether or not to continue but whether I should do 60 or the full 120 and get level 2 done in one go.

I began my journey with The Open University in October 2015. Although my attitude and behaviour at school proper stank, to the point where before I was 15 I’d been kicked out of the education system, my intelligence was up there with my former school mates. However, thinking you can do something is different from knowing you can. It was time for me to prove all those teachers right. The ones who on numerous occasions would write in my school report among other things “If only David applied himself”. Better late than never and although not my only reason I also wanted to know “What if I did apply myself?” I began with an Access Module.

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SHIT!!!! So, that’s what can happen. I should explain that TMA stands for tutor marked assignment and CMA for computer marked assignment which for someone in my position was a bit of a misnomer. We didn’t have access to our student home page, it was on virtual campus but the least said about the quality of that back then the better. So, my CMA had to be printed off so I could complete it by hand.

My own journey while studying for this Access Module also makes for an interesting read. When I applied for funding from Prisoners’ Education Trust, to do the Access Module, I was still to be sentenced. Therefore, I started my studies in a B cat local, HMP Norwich. It wasn’t too long after studying that I was sentenced and in the November I transferred to the C cat part of Norwich which is the old YOI we called F ‘n’ G wing. It was known as the LDU, local discharge unit. Nope! We didn’t get it either. F ‘n’ G didn’t really have an identity. It wasn’t a B cat, not quite a C cat, nothing like anywhere I’d been before. The proverb the grass not always being greener springs to mind, in fact, F ‘n’ G had a five-a-side pitch that was covered with Astro-turf. I should have taken that as a sign. There’s another proverb that springs to mind, you reap what you sow. In hindsight what turned out to be a disastrous move also turned out to be one of the best transfers I’d ever had. I had one more lesson to learn and F ‘n’ G would provide it.

My sentence was under normal circumstances too long for me to have gone over to F ‘n’ G, it was primarily for those serving under 12 months and being released to the local area, hence LDU although more in name than action. However, the prison felt that they could utilise my skills and experience over there. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I fully intended to do if I got there, but not for the benefit of the prison. At this point please understand that my intentions to change were real, however, something I didn’t think of changing, and I honestly mean didn’t think, was changing the part of me that thrived in prison. That side which on my first day in, depending of course on the time I landed on the wing and depending on what the reception orderly was like, I’d be able to bang-up for my first night with everything I needed, or wanted. £2 pin credit (an open pin can be bloody handy for some) swapped for an eighth of burn which in turn is swapped for some coffee. I can’t stand prison tea-bags, or UHT milk come to that, which is probably why I drink my coffee without milk. Plus going back to the same jail a few times you start bumping into the same old faces. Many a time I’d say “No way! I thought I’ve not seen you around for a while out there”. Another sentence but one I’d hear, and more often than not, from these same people, other than “have you got?”, was “are you alright for everything, anything you need?” Shower-gel and an imperial leather roll-on usually get sorted at this stage too. Cor!! Someone gave me a bottle of this one once:

This stuff should come with a f&$king warning, wow, it certainly refreshes parts that other shower-gels don’t. I thought someone had stitched me up by putting deep heat in it.

I became heavily involved in the trafficking of drugs and to cut a long story short as I’ve covered this before, it all came on top after a few months and I ended up back over in the B cat and on basic for 5 weeks. Still studying for my access module made things a little awkward but it was what it was. Totally my fault. In fact, it was the only thing I didn’t lose. Having said that a mixture of all that along with nerves and negative self-talk plus the pressure of completing an exam meant I was close to failing that too, as you can see from my final score:

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I would only have had myself to blame if I had failed. By the time this result had come in, the difference in me was chalk and cheese. I learnt so much from my own stupidity. No more half measures for me bruv. I reapplied myself with even more determination to turn things around. Educationally as well as my thought process. I mentioned earlier about not having access to any online material directly, that wasn’t the only issue. It could take up to two weeks to arrange a call with my tutor.

As I was funding my degree through a student loan I felt cheated enough already that I could only study via textbooks and pre-printed material so I at least wanted to utilise having a tutor. It became clear early on that my tutor would be better for any future issues that may arise on an upcoming TMA rather than any issues I came across during a TMA. A decision made easier by the fact I was an education mentor so had my own access to a tutor’s advice.

Throughout the whole prison, there were only two of us studying for a degree. I was fortunate that not only had the other person become a mate early on, we were also banged-up on the same landing after my return. He and I would often help the other, we would read each others work before submitting, not so much from a critical view but more to make sure everything was covered. He was doing a sports degree and I’m studying criminology and psychological studies but the format was the same.

So, how did my first module go?

I’ll let you decide.

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I was released from prison on the 9th of June 2017, so after the term had finished. This worked out perfectly as I was to spend a period of time, 3 months, in Approved Premises. Was I to successfully get through the AP in the time-frame it meant I could be settled before beginning my second level 1 module. I managed to get out of the AP after 11 weeks. I then moved into supported accommodation. I was kindly given a second-hand PC which made life even easier for when I began studying again, or so I thought.

My first introduction to online learning scared the living daylights out of me. I’d gone from studying from textbooks and improving through my tutors feedback on each TMA to, well, everything. Forums, Facebook and WhatsApp groups dedicated to my module, future meetings and online presentations. All that was even before I went on my student home page. There was advice, information and guidance everywhere. I became totally overwhelmed and buried my head in the sand. To cut another long story, I had a great chat with The Open University’s helpline. I had managed to complete my first TMA so decided to bank my score and defer for a year.

Enrollment time soon came around again, with a renewed confidence I submitted my application form to begin the module again, albeit with my first TMA score banked. October 2018 and off we go again. A few months later I receive an email reminding me to submit my second TMA. I’d totally forgotten. Crazy eh? I’d been so busy with other things that I just forgot. So, again I took the decision to defer, I was just too busy to commit and I wanted/needed to ride the wave I was on.

I enrolled again, third time lucky. This time was different though. I wanted something to show for all the hard work and effort. I could finish my level one module and then receive a certificate. Not a degree but still evidence of achieving. I had a chat with my tutor and said this time is all about getting through, about passing the module. My scores, as long as over the pass threshold, irrelevant. I’d also signed up to Open Learn, and in between terms I utilised their site. It got me used to online studying like nothing before. I started to get comfortable with this new way of learning and studying, new for me anyway.

I did everything possible to give me the best chance of passing the module. And then, enter stage right Covid-19. One benefit of the pandemic was The University sent out an email saying that due to the virus we would not have to complete the exam and our final score will be based on our TMA scores. I was confident the end of this module would see my journey with The OU come to an end too, or at least an extended break. It had already been one hell of a ride and it felt the right time. As you can see from the image and my introduction at the beginning of this blog, it didn’t work out that way. A big motivator to carry on came in the form of my scores for this final level one module. Education is addictive, I’d recommend it to anyone.

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