photo by Dom Fou Unsplash

Turning a sentence into a degree: one scholar’s remarkable story

Author: | 9 Mar 2022

Turning a prison sentence into a university degree is what Longford scholars do. Second chances and a personal approach are at the heart of what we at Longford Trust do. A scholar is supported both financially and with a one-to-one trained mentor to help achieve their potential.  

More than 80% of scholars successfully graduate and get a degree-level job. Increasingly, scholars take advantage of Longford employability training and support. 

Applications for 2022 scholarships are open for 2022/23 academic year (see below for more)

One scholar who joined last year has written for Longford Blog about her journey to university….

There’s plenty written about what people lose when they go to prison. We lose our homes, our jobs, our families, every bit of normality that we may have ever had. Coming to prison at the age of 19 changed everything for me. Alongside the crushing realisation that I’d lost everything, I distinctly remember thinking about something else on my first night in a prison cell – what could I possibly do with my life in a new world void of opportunity?

Fast forward to the age of 20, I was working on the induction unit. A group of fresh-faced criminology students from a local university entered the wing as part of a prison tour.

I remember that feeling – the feeling that they were just like me but were totally different. All the doors that were closed to me were wide open for them.

They asked me questions about my time in prison, eager to know what life was like in our hidden world. When they left, I couldn’t shake the realisation that I would never have that kind of opportunity again. That feeling stayed in my head for months, serving as a constant reminder that my life had finished before it had started.

A year later, I was working as a Peer Advisor in the same prison. I was asked to conduct a talk for a group of first-year criminology students in the visits hall. I was immediately reluctant as I was sick and tired of being wheeled out as a reliable performer, ready to speak highly of the prison to any visitor in a suit at the drop of a hat. Persuaded by the promise of a sausage roll and a biscuit, I gave in and delivered the talk.

For once, I was honest about prison.

Honest about the inequality and deprivation that has filled our prison system to the rafters. I was honest about the reality that prison is a profitable method for throwing away everyone that society doesn’t want to see. For every ‘proper criminal’, there are another 50 women with the type of trauma histories that could keep you awake at night for the rest of your days. New to the world of criminal justice, the group of students were blown away by my stories and the simple fact that our prison system does not work.

The head lecturer of the group approached me just as the students were leaving. He asked about my release date, insisting that I should be at university. I still had three years to serve, so he suggested that I should start university as soon as I was eligible for open conditions. There was a continuous trail of communications between myself, the university, my family and the prison. There were so many challenges from every direction, and so much red tape that I never believed it would come to fruition.

I was given my ‘open status’ (where I could leave the prison on day release for study or work) in September 2020, just one week before the start of the course.

Walking into the lecture theatre for the first time….

felt just as unfamiliar and frightening as walking onto the wing for the first time. As terrifying as it was, I somehow felt like I was at home. I started to relax as soon as I realised that I wasn’t really that different from everyone else in the room.

I would learn that my experience would end up being an asset instead of holding me back.

I came across The Longford Trust whilst trying to find financial support during my first year of university. Though I was too late to apply for that year, I became a Longford scholar in my second year at university. It was incredible to know that there were other people on the same exciting journey as me. The Longford Trust partnered me with the perfect mentor. We now meet every two weeks and discuss all things criminal justice.

There have been plenty of challenges.

I often say that studying at university whilst in prison is akin to climbing Mount Everest whilst walking backwards and wearing flip flops.

Though this is the case, I’d recommend my journey to every single person in my situation. The opportunities that have been available to me since the start of my university experience are beyond what I ever thought possible. Alongside my studies and research, I work as a part-time lecturer. I am fortunate enough to be able to offer a rare insight into our world and educate prison staff about the important things that you’d never find in a textbook. To even consider what my life was like four years ago is truly unimaginable now.

I’ll end this blog with a short message of advice to every single person in prison. There are people waiting to hear your story. There are opportunities out there that are beyond the reach of the prison education department. There are people out there that are waiting to support you at every stage of your journey.

Believe in what you want to do, whatever that is, and stay tremendously interested in it.

It is only by running head-first at your passion that you’ll make your future what you want.


Have you got plans to study a uni degree? Are you close to release or recently released? preferably in your 20s/30s, check out our 2022 application here: 

 The closing date is 5th June 2022.




We need more lived experience leaders in the justice system…like you!

Author: | 21 May 2021

CJ Burge has recently been appointed a new Trustee of the Longford Trust, alongside another former scholar. Here the First class degree graduate reflects on her journey from prison to boardroom, offering hope and advice to other upcoming leaders who have personal experience of prison.



I was bowled over when I got the call from the Longford Trust’s Chair to say that they would be delighted to have me as a Trustee on their Board. I was thinking “I’m the one who’s delighted, humbled, elated….!”

You see, even now, years on from my release from prison, I still suffer from impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the feeling that I shouldn’t be where I am, doing the things I’m doing: sitting amongst these professionals; leading this partnership meeting; speaking on a podium to a national conference of experts; being asked for my perspective by senior government officials, and the list goes on….Impostor syndrome in this context is institutionalisation’s best friend, waiting to confront you as you leave the prison gates, hiding in your shadow as you stride forward into your new life. Although it has never quite gone away, I’ve learnt to live with it, and I’ve found that over the years, the more I’ve challenged myself to do new things, and be in new settings (that quite frankly have filled me with trepidation), the more I’ve conquered and silenced my unwelcome friend from prison.

If you’d have asked me 7 years ago, when I started my degree in prison, whether I’d be where I am today – Trustee of two remarkable charities, and a National Service Manager at another – I’d have smiled at you in incredulity and utter disbelief.

Incarceration and the prison system are far from the vessels of hope and transformation they really should be in a progressive 21st century society like ours.

Reflecting on what has got me here and how it has been possible, I’ve boiled it down to a combination of actions, mindsets and opportunities that have accelerated my path to being in leadership positions, just four years out of prison.



The one thing I knew for sure in prison was that I needed to re-educate myself. If I was going to go anywhere or do anything of significance, I needed to use the thousands of hours at my disposal to better myself as a human being, so that one day I could effectively give back to the community I would be re-entering. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship through the Longford Trust to study Law, and with that came an amazing mentor who encouraged, inspired and challenged me, in equal measures. At the end of my degree, the opportunity to do a placement at the Cabinet Office arose, again through the Trust, and this short immersion in all things government and policy lifted the lid on what I thought was possible. It enabled me to dream the dream, that people like us could one day be in positions like those, not just as some summer intern, or token achiever, but for the knowledge, skills and much-needed lived experiences that we bring of the criminal justice services and social systems that see people at their lowest, most vulnerable state, and in much need of help.



The number one mantra for me has been to embrace challenge positively. I’ve known all along my journey, from 9 months’ solitary confinement in a Japanese prison, to having my daughter taken away from me at birth, to speaking in front of hundreds at a Longford Lecture or even delivering the first TEDx talk in a prison in the UK, that this would be hard, well more than hard, potentially soul-destroying if I allowed it to be. Very early on I had to come to terms with my actions that had led me to where I was and the hurt that I had caused others. I made a decision that this wasn’t the end, that no matter what, I could turn it around and, though now through a more colourful path, still fulfil my life’s ambitions to help others. Notice I said embrace challenge positively? Well positivity and gratitude are the two other mindsets that have smoothed the rocky landscapes that I have traversed. Without these I would have probably been bailing out of every challenge that came my way, but it was the positive thinking and the gratitude that kept me both buoyant and grounded, at the same time.


The very definition of opportunity, a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something, may have you believe that you need to wait for those sets of circumstances to arise before you can even get a whiff of an opportunity. I see it a bit differently though, that we can engender the right circumstances by preparing and getting ourselves in a position to have opportunities line up at our door.

In my case it started with volunteering I undertook a qualification in prison delivered by St Giles in Information, Advice & Guidance, and became one of their Peer Advisors, supporting women in prison with resettlement issues. A bit later I volunteered whilst on day release (or ‘RoTL’ as it’s known) in the community in the St Giles’ Peer Advisor Contact Centre. I also secured a volunteer placement at the Southwark Law Centre.

Volunteering gave me the skills and knowledge to apply more confidently for jobs, and fortunately I secured a paid role coordinating for the award-winning educational and preventative SOS+ Service at St Giles. I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I was when I landed the job, it reduced me to tears knowing that someone out there valued me enough to pay for my contributions. Volunteering gave me a steady foundation, a base to jump off from, but that first job, being paid for the hard work I was putting in, that cemented and deep-rooted a new sense of self-worth, identity and value.

I am passionate about rehabilitation and second chances, which is why everything that the Longford Trust does resonates with me. For the last five years I have given my absolute all to developing a service that champions the potential of people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system, by providing opportunities to learn and develop skills that lead to sustainable career prospects. I am a staunch advocate for meaningful opportunities for people who leave prison, having seen first-hand the multitude of barriers for those with convictions, and the incredibly difficult circumstances many who find themselves in prison have faced. As a Trustee of the Criminal Justice Alliance (‘CJA’), I chair their Lived Experience Expert Group that meets quarterly to bring together CJA members to provide advice, support and expertise to our work on lived experience and improving the diversity of the criminal justice workforce to include, at all levels, those with lived experiences.

We need more employers and organisations in the justice sector to recognise, value, include and recruit into leadership and influencing roles people with lived experiences of the criminal justice system,

if we are “to (re)build a system that learns from those with crucial insights into the challenges that undermine the system’s key objectives” (Change from Within, CJA report 2019). Moreover, the benefits of having lived experience on non-profit boards are numerous: from “improving the quality of evidence based decision making”, to providing “credibility, legitimacy, efficiency, effectiveness,… authentic representation and a better understanding” to the issues in need of tackling, as academics from Cass Business School have found.

I am really glad to see incremental positive changes taking place across our sector with trailblazing charities, like the Longford Trust, leading the way by walking the talk and valuing lived experience. I end this blog echoing the Change from Within report’s call to action to the whole criminal justice sector, including public and private sector agencies, to recognise, celebrate and invest in people with lived experience. Whilst also encouraging all my peers to continue to welcome challenge positively, to believe in the value of and to harness their lived experiences, and always, always to aim high!





Sometimes success is not where you are now

Author: | 11 Mar 2021

Every so often we receive an email which makes us stop and really think about what we do and how to measure success. Recently Hallam, an ex-scholar from 2012, got in touch out of the blue. As far as we were concerned, he’d dropped out of university and then dropped out of view. As far as the statistics go, not a success.

But maybe we should re-think how and when to measure success. Hallam explains in his own words for Longford Blog:

I was about 13-years-old when I started offending.

At 15 I was arrested as part of a police gangs operation and by 17 I was sat in a young offenders’ institute facing significant time.

I celebrated my 18th birthday in jail; I began my ‘adult life’ on 23-hour bang up on D wing of HMYOI Brinsford in Wolverhampton, eating Jamaican ginger cake as my birthday cake.

After I was released, my family moved abroad and, because of my convictions, I wasn’t allowed to move with them.

I was 19-years-old, no family, no job and no prospects for the future other than crime.

I felt like a failure.

About a year later, I decided I wanted to do something with my life and felt joining the Royal Marines was my way out. I will never forget the moment the armed forces career officer looked at my criminal record, and laughed in my face. ‘You will never, ever join the Royal Marines, it’s not for people like you, get out of my office.’

I felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry. I felt a failure.

A path to education….

However, I stuck with my determination to do ‘something’ with my life; I would return to education.

Looking back at education, my school life was a mess. Although I actually managed to leave with 5 GCSEs (don’t ask me how, because I didn’t do any work!), I was constantly in trouble inside and outside of school, always truanting and was suspended a number of times. I didn’t value education at that time.

Despite my past experience, I enrolled at college and on a night course as well. It was a tough year. I passed both courses and was offered a place at the University of Westminster in London. It was an expensive place to live and I didn’t know if I could afford to go. That’s how I came across the Longford Trust.

Feeling safe in a different world…..

I’ll never forget that first meeting. Discussing my scholarship application in a fancy coffee shop with the scholarship manager, I remember thinking, for the first time in a very long time, that I felt safe, I didn’t have to worry about seeing someone I had issues with and it ending in violence.

It was so far removed from my daily life, but I enjoyed it. It was a seed being planted.

University life in London was a different world to me.

I remember the looks on the faces of the students I lived with when I told them about my life, like the time I was shot at and felt a bullet fly past my head. They looked horrified, I had always laughed about it before.

University was the first place I had a social circle who thought it crazy to be shot at or stabbed, and not a normal part of life.

Whilst at university I applied, and was accepted into, the Royal Marines Reserves (in spite of my past interaction at the armed forces office). I trained hard and studied, my life was on a positive path. Unfortunately, during a training exercise I suffered a significant knee injury which ended my military career before it had properly started.

My dreams were crushed, I felt deflated. I finished my first year of University but never returned.

I dropped out. Again, I felt a failure.

On paper I would have been a failed statistic for the Longford Trust. I hadn’t completed the degree I started.

But how do we measure success?

There are the obvious ways; did I pass, did I drop out, did I achieve 100%? But what about the other, less obvious successes? Like gaining experience of life outside of my area, associating with people doing legal jobs with legit ambitions, broadening my view of what was possible.

Maybe a better way to measure success is to ask if a scholar was afforded the opportunity to avoid the criminal or gang life for long enough to walk away from it? The answer for me was yes.

Fast forward to today, 10 years later: At 31-years-old, I now run a successful organisation working with young people to prevent criminal exploitation. I also work in schools using my own experiences to help safeguard children. I have travelled around the world, have a house, a stable relationship and a son. I am a better person.

On top of all of that, I am back studying at university, going into my third year of a Psychology degree through the Open University.

So why the email out of the blue to the Longford Trust? For me, starting that degree in 2012 as a scholar was the catalyst for change in my life.

The experience of attending university outside of my home city, meeting people with different life experiences and seeing a future without crime were what I needed to spark a change.

I would not be where I am today without that first chance as a student.

The degree did not change my life. The opportunity to access a new life and a new area did.

If success is only measured within small timescales, what happens to those that require a longer time to grow but eventually reach great heights?

No matter where you are today, don’t measure your success against where you are now. Learn to look at life as a series of opportunities in which seeds are planted. Some will take longer to flower than others, but no seed planted is ever wasted. You never know which one will grow to be giant.

Take the opportunity, it is so much more than a degree.

Thank you to the Longford Trust for supporting me and believing in me. Even though I failed first time round, it led me to much greater heights of success.