Over this weekend I once again dipped into my Open Learn account to improve my knowledge on everything criminal justice, or at least the areas I am most interested in. I do so for several reasons. The obvious is that it improves my knowledge but there are many more benefits for me to gain from studying.
I have loved learning all throughout my life. School as an environment, however, was not for me. From day one if the stories told to me are true, and I see no reason they’re not. I had problems with nursery, infant, junior and secondary school before being permanently excluded (or finally excluded, depends on your perspective) but I had no problems with learning. That’s the thing with learning, it was, and is, everywhere. I’m not suggesting my goal was to be permanently excluded but both the school and I got what we wanted in the end.
I was free to go on my own education journey. Unfortunately, most of that journey took place in the school to prison pipeline and then within the revolving doors of the criminal justice system. However, it was what it was! And here we are now, in a not unfortunate set of circumstances.
As much as I advocate for improvements in the provision of education in prison, I must admit that prison education is an area of prison which has seen a host of improvements over the years but once you reached a certain level there wasn’t much on offer for further study. An area which thanks to the OU and charities such as Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), NACRO etc. along with organisations like the National Extension College (NEC), has improved beyond all recognition and now we have companies such as DWRM Consultants…
Our objective is to greatly increase the number of people in prison studying Further and Higher Education. – DWRM works with universities to offer a much wider range of degree courses than are currently available to students in prison. We focus on the provision of study materials, tuition and greater participation in a learning community so as to properly engage students.https://www.dwrm.org.uk/
I have been fortunate to have been supported by all the organisations I mentioned, other than DWRM, however, I do know Dan and Ruth from DWRM and have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Dan at a University of Gloucester event last year. I had first become involved with distance learning in 2005, when, through financial support from PET, I began studying with the NEC. Most of my qualifications I received in prison were all to do with the work I did in prison. Mentoring, peer support, learning support, advice & guidance and my highest, a level three certificate in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector, which I received in HMP Wayland in 2009. I had also received my level one and two in English, Maths, and ICT. As well as other numerous, but worthwhile, courses and qualifications.
During what I knew would be my last ever prison sentence, I wanted to utilise prison education one last time, this time with the daddy of education provision in prison, or at least the daddy of distance learning, The Open University.
Again, my reasons for deciding/choosing to study for a degree in prison were manyfold. One obvious reason was the time it would eat up when behind my door, and the activity it will give my mind in respect of quieting down the internal noises when behind my door, alone with my thoughts. I wanted to know if the teachers from my childhood were right and to see what would happen if I did fully apply myself. I never got the chance to sit my exams, or have options for college, employment, or university. I know I already had a raft of qualifications and I still saw them as achievements to be proud of, even I expected more and regarding education, is not a degree right up there at the very top? From my view it was. I also wanted to know how to construct an argument in the right way. I knew what I wanted to do after I was released and how I was doing it wouldn’t have worked out here. I needed to learn ‘their’ language and stop with the “oi, listen” and “see you” along with similar phrases which would have no doubt seen a lot of doors slammed in my face. I knew that would happen anyway so why add to it by being obnoxious and arrogant?
One other reason, although not the last, was that I wanted to know the lessons of my ‘lived experience’. It’s one thing having ‘lived experience’ but what do with it and how best to utilise it so that it can have, where I felt, the most impact was something else. A reason I continue to utilise the Open Learn resource from the OU.
I began by studying first for an Access Module, YO32 Understanding people, work and society before moving on to a BA (Honours) Criminology and Psychology degree.
I am proud to say I achieved everything I set out to achieve and continue to do so. Along the way and with some of the roles I covered whilst serving time in prison I also learnt, and continue to learn, so much about myself.
The more I learn the more I want to know.
One indirect benefit for me personally in studying out here using the Open Learn resource is that some of my most peaceful moments in prison, both in the physical term and mentally, were while studying in the early hours before the noise of prison kicked in, such a profound silence. Peaceful beyond explanation. Therefore, if I find things getting a bit too noisy in my mind, I take myself back, and these days, I don’t need to commit a crime first.
Education makes the impossible, possible.