I was scared of taking on a degree

Author: | 8 Jan 2023

For Longford Blog, Simon, from our latest intake of scholars, reflects on his journey from arriving in jail and dismissing the idea of a degree because ‘all I had was GCSEs’, to overcoming his fears, beginning studying, and continuing on release from prison. If I can do it, he urges others, so can you…

Adjusting to being in prison at the start of my sentence was extremely hard. I needed a release to keep my mind focused. This is when I discovered training in the gym. It was my escape and kept me mentally and physically strong through tough times.

I was also thinking about how to improve myself so as to leave prison physically and mentally stronger. One day an Open University team came in to give a talk. From the first moment they spoke, I knew this was the path to go down. My biggest problem was what subject to study?  I asked family and friends for advice and decided sport, fitness and coaching.

Taking a leap of faith

I was scared. At no point in my life had I ever thought I was capable of studying at degree level. I’d done GCSEs but nothing more. A friend on my wing who I would train with in the gym reassured me. ‘You enjoy training and sport. You can spend many more months thinking about what you want to do and if you are capable. Or you can take a leap of faith, study a subject you enjoy and give 100% to it.’

That was the day I sent in my application. I wanted prove to my family that I could be a better man and achieve great things. To show them my dedication to studying was a way of  showing them and myself that the future could be better.

At the start of my studies I found it extremely hard to keep up with deadlines and find the time to study in the prison environment. As time went on, though, it became more natural. I began going to the prison library and borrowed all the books I could find on academic writing to try and learn. Soon I was achieving marks of between 70-80 per cent for all my modules. Access to computers and study material was really hard, but this was something I was doing for my future so I made sure I did all I could on my own, to reach my targets

Happy with the man I am today

Over the course of my sentence, I believe I have matured immensely, and feel happy with the man I am today. I put it down to maintaining a strict routine with exercise and studying. Without these, I don’t know how I would have reached the end.

When Covid came around, studying and prison life became very hard. We were all locked behind our doors for 23 and a half hours a day. I used the time to study extra hard and dedicated eight hours each day to reading and writing and an hour a day to learning a new language (Mandarin) to fill the time. I also wrote in-cell workout programmes and nutrition plans for other inmates to ensure we were all keeping active.

Fast forward to 2021 and I was transferred to an open prison which was great because I had more freedom and better facilities to focus on my studies and plan for my future. On day-release on several occasions my family travelled up and I was able to spend quality time with them.

My transition from prison back into the community has so far been a smooth process due to careful planning and a wide range of support. Not long before being released I made my application to the Longford Trust and was granted a scholarship. This involved a financial grant, a laptop to study with, and a mentor. Now I am continuing on the outside with the final year of my degree with the security of the trust’s support.

My mentor is amazing

My Longford Trust mentor is amazing. He will sit with me and go through my work, help me to understand areas where I could improve. He is also there for emotional support should I need it during these challenging times.

If I could give any advice to other prison leavers, it would be to be realistic in your future plans. Locked behind a door can give you a false view of the world and what to expect. Use all resources and support as best you can because life outside of prison is a huge transition.

Find out more about our Longford Scholarships and Frank Awards. You could soon be walking in Simon’s educational footsteps!

 

Why You Can’t Better A Christmas Book

Author: | 15 Dec 2022

If you’ve got a spare moment this festive season, for Longford Blog former scholar Dempsey tells his story of prison, Christmas, books and their power to transport us wherever we find ourselves

A supermoon shining older and colder than superstition cast a wintry light over London while the world hurried over cobblestoned streets to the seasonal sound of bells.  Gleaming brass bells ringing hopefully and insistently in the white-gloved hands of the streetcorner Santa.

From high-end boutiques dressed up and down and all around in silver and gold, from the gap-toothed vendor selling bourbon-laced eggnog with candy cane straws, to the young and old church group singing “We Three Kings” beneath a Victorian-era lamppost, make no mistake about it, Christmas time was here.  Here holding the candle of religion in one hand, here bearing the torch of commercialization in the other.  “Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas Day.”

A venerable smell

I was headed toward Hatchards, a Piccadilly bookshop that has been doing business in greater London since the 1700s.  I walked into the carpeted shop and over to a vintage end-table neatly stacked with contemporary works of fiction.  On an adjacent end-table were books of military history.

Surveying the shop as if I were about to rent a room, I could sense its comfort had been earned rather than given.  The place looks venerable, smells venerable and, with its glossy mahogany tables, ornate banisters, and green-shade bankers’ lamps, feels venerable.

I found the section with the works of Charles Dickens in paper- and hardback resting on high shelves and long tables. Taking David Copperfield in hand, I sat down on a well-worn burgundy leather Chesterfield that felt like the ne plus ultra of comfort.  While I reread the first page of the classic for the first time in a long time, an orchestral rendition of “Carol of the Bells” stole through the entrance whenever someone entered or left.  I felt a deep sense of belonging in that bookshop, a supreme contentment created by the holiday season, antiquated atmosphere, and the ghosts of all those Dickens characters floating from stories of the long ago.

Novels that sustain

I didn’t always have the luxury of visiting an elegant bookshop in a cosmopolitan city because I had been in prison for most of my life.  Been right behind the looming concrete walls of a prison in a part of New York State that stayed cloudy, stayed dreary, stayed brutally unsympathetic and impersonal, but most of all, simply stayed.

I was occasionally asked how I did my time.  How I served a lengthy sentence without breaking down and dissolving into the earth.  I invariably replied that I was saved by the novel, spared the destruction of imprisonment because of the novel’s ability to transport the mind, reroute and redirect thought and feeling.

The novel can entertain as much as it can sustain.  Books also shore up the abiding loneliness of imprisonment.  Lessen the sting of prolonged banishment.

In prison books are my world

A large part of life consists of the people who come and go from your life.  Some people you don’t mind never seeing again, others you do.  Books, their characters and the stories they tell become your friends.  Friends who remain.  Important and towering allies in an often cold and alienating world.

In prison books were of paramount importance to me.  When I was young, I felt that my friends were my world.  In prison my books were my world.  They were fulfilling and reliable and if I’ve yet to fully express what the novel has meant to me and can mean to anyone, I’ll offer up the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of all literature.  You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”

An eye opening trip to visit Uganda prisons

Author: | 10 Nov 2022


As part of our
Employability project, this summer two current Longford Scholars won travelling scholarships to spend five weeks working with the charity Justice Defenders in Ugandan prisons.  One of the two, Wayne, reflects in conversation on what he gained by the experience 

Why did you apply to go to Uganda?

The opportunity immediately spoke to me – to my passions, and to my personal and professional experiences. I was about to graduate in my BA (Hons) degree in Youth Work and Community Development. My own experiences of the criminal justice system as a whole are what motivate me. Having the chance to experience how it operates in Uganda seemed too good to miss.

As I have become more reflective about my own adverse childhood experiences that resulted in abandonment, helplessness, homelessness, drug addiction and imprisonment, I have been questioning what my next steps in life should be, how can I use my lived experienced and the academic knowledge I have gained to make a real difference in the world? This informed my wish to go to Uganda.

What were you expecting to find there?

I didn’t really know. I was aware of where Uganda currently is economically, and that it was going to be a culture shock in comparison to conditions in prisons in the UK.

How was it different from what you were expecting?

Seeing something with your own eyes can be difficult to process. It was clear that there is a lot of need there. It could leave me feeling overwhelmed and helpless over where to begin, or what to do to support those going through a system that gives them such limited support upon release. It just places them back in the cycle of fighting to survive. It was hard to witness.

What was it like going into a Ugandan prison?

Thanks to Justice Defenders, we were welcomed by the prison staff but, once inside, it quickly became daunting. It was overcrowded and there were limited opportunities for education or work as part of rehabilitation. That was having an adverse effect on the prisoners’ physical and psychological wellbeing.

One of the main things that struck me was that there were a lot of officers who genuinely wanted to help those in prison. There was almost a camaraderie between prisoners and staff. They all seemed to understand that people were often committing crimes just to survive. Many prisoners had been unable to defend themselves in court, or didn’t have the means. They did not know how to challenge the criminal justice system, or even how the process worked.

What did you get involved in there?

In the prisons there were opportunities for us to meet prisoners and share our own lived experiences and encourage them that none of us are defined by our past. This was particularly challenging in a completely different culture with often extreme barriers and no obligation on the government for support on release such as housing or a benefit system. Among the topics we discussed were preparing for re-integration into community, anger management and drug awareness. We shared tools to help with dealing with these issues. These conversations created a safe space for the prisoners to open up and be truly heard.

Did you feel you made a connection with those you met in the prison?

It is difficult to build connections in short doses as we visited multiple prisons. One of the main ways was by sharing personal stories and vulnerabilities so as to build connection through the emotions we have all experienced.

How was it working with Justice Defenders?

All of those I encountered made me feel welcome and looked after. I built some meaningful friendships that I will continue to build on.

What did you gain by going to Uganda?

It has opened my eyes to the fact that, although we have our own challenges within our country, we are extremely fortunate in comparison to others around the world. We should remember and appreciate that. It has helped me identify more clearly  that I want to be involved in social change/justice and that we are not limited to just our own community to do that. There are people in the world who need support and help and we are blessed here, able to go and make a real difference in others’ lives.

 

Our travelling scholarships are supported by the Henry Oldfield Trust. We will be sending two more scholars to Uganda in the summer of 2023.  Any past or present scholars interested in applying should contact our Employability Manager, Abi Andrews

 

I know all about art’s power to change lives

Author: | 17 Oct 2022

With so much turmoil in the world at the moment – anyone reading this will know prisons and the justice system are by no means immune- it is heartening some things are resilient enough to withstand external pressure. Art has the power to allow people to express themselves and be a key to transform lives.

So much so that one ex-scholar is keen to share the opportunity to exhibit from a seaside art gallery. 

Jamie Chapman writes below for Longford blog

I have been lucky to have people who have played a positive role in my life: the team in prison education when I was inside; Sister Carmen, the prison nun; Inside Time newspaper; those at the Koestler Trust who unlock the talent inside; and the Longford Trust and my Longford mentor Carolyn in supporting me through my fine art and professional studies degree at Bath Spa University.

Since I graduated in 2017, I’ve been working as an artist, selling my work (I exhibited at the 2016 Longford Lecture, alongside three other fine art student scholars) and enjoying life.

I didn’t go back to London where I grew up.  Too many bad memories. Instead I’ve stayed in Weston-super-Mare, next to the sea, where I did my art degree in a college that comes under Bath Spa’s umbrella.

I now live in a flat that looks out to sea, and in June this year had an exhibition of my landscapes and sculptures  – many using recycled materials – in the Granby Building in the town. The Mayor came to open it. (See picture above)

Some people say art is self-indulgent but I know all about its power to change lives, mine included.

It has built my confidence and, when I work with young people at a local rehabilitation unit, I see how art gives them a way forward, an outlet, a non-verbal way to say what they think and have been through when they can’t find the words. Instead they use a pencil and a paint brush.

Recently I lost one of the last surviving members of my family. Because of that I’ve reached a turning point. Life is too short so I want to show my thankfulness and a respect for the opportunities and love that I’ve been shown.  I know what makes me happy and that is to make others happy and help them take their lives forward.

I have therefore taken on the rent of the same space in the Granby Building in St Margaret’s Terrace where I had my exhibition. It’s a great space. I am calling it The Gallery and – between other jobs – I’ve been busy doing it up to professional standards.

It’s cost me a fortune, but greed for money caused me problems in the past, so no matter.  I don’t need that pressure in my life. Now it is almost ready and my plan in the months and hopefully years ahead is to run it as a not-for-profit gallery, renting it out at cost to other artists so they can show their work.

Giving them the keys is my way of spreading happiness, whether it be to students at the local art school, the groups of local photographers and artists I’ve got to know here, or to any past and present Longford Scholars who are reading this and who are artists with work to share.

 

If you are interested, get in touch.  You can find me on Instagram at TheGalleryWeston, or contact office@longfordtrust.org and we can connect you.

 

 

Reforming probation from the inside

Author: | 20 Sep 2022

In May, we shared the news that a Longford scholar had gone full-circle, moving from prisoner to probation service officer.  His experience is proof that doors can open in unexpected places and offer surprising opportunities. 

That same scholar, Lawrence, has written for Longford Blog about his inspirational journey…

I recently enjoyed a ‘catch-up’ with some serving prisoners for a lengthy conversation about disclosing criminal records. In an attempt to inspire optimism, I talked to them about my own career opportunities and the positive experiences I’d had with employers who were prepared to overlook my prison experience and conviction.

The most recent employer to do this was none other than the probation service. Yes, that’s right, after two years in prison and a chunk of time on probation, I, with a First-Class Honours degree, am now employed as a probation service officer.

I am as surprised as anyone, as my early experience of probation didn’t get off to the best start.

In prison, my relationship with the probation service started poorly when they sent me some information from a formal risk assessment known as OASys (probation love an acronym). I had been classed as a ‘high risk of re-offending’, contradicting my own belief that I had offended under rare and unusual circumstances, not as part of a routine or lifestyle. Just to explain, I had never actually met the professionals behind this assessment, so the judgement felt unfair and harsh. The assessment also set out that I must refrain from contact with my lifelong best friend, as he had previously been my co-defendant during the legal process. If I did initiate contact, I could be recalled back into custody – a frightening prospect that often caused me vivid nightmares.

From that point, I distrusted probation less and less, seeing them as my enemy who would hinder my progress. My impression was reinforced by fellow prisoners who felt you could never win with probation, so there was no point in trying.

Things got worse before they got better.

I was convinced my successful future depended on going to university after prison.

For me, I was determined a degree was the key to avoiding life as an unemployed ‘former criminal’ who had disappointed family and friends. Imagine my delight to receive an offer to study for a degree. I felt I was about to get life back on track. And then probation suggested I might have no choice but to refuse the offer due to restrictions and licence conditions.

Any hope I’d had for the future swiftly faded away. I experienced a severe mental breakdown and I partially attributed it to conversations with probation which had drained all my hope. I was angry and blamed probation for my downward spiral, commenting that if I were to re-offend, it would be their fault.

Thankfully, the day of my release was when things started to change.

Wearing a suit, which I’d last worn on my day of sentencing, I made my way to a local probation office, as instructed. A helpful staff member held open a door for me and I walked into a large office, where I was told to sign in and ‘choose a desk’. It quickly became clear that the probation staff had mistaken me for a new member of their team – not a newly released prisoner!

My probation officer later remarked that one day I could maybe work for probation. To be honest, I took that with a pinch of salt. After all, I had been convicted of, and imprisoned for, a serious offence; I wasn’t aware of anybody with such a history becoming a probation officer in this country. I pretty much ruled out the idea from the start.

Things continued to look up with probation.

My probation officer wrote a supportive reference for a university panel hearing which scrutinised my convictions.

She said I would be ‘an asset to their establishment’. Her reference was instrumental in me being confirmed as a student; I think she’d be proud to know I successfully completed my studies with a First as a Longford scholar, after pouring effort, energy and enthusiasm into my degree. Probation also played their part in my academic success. To make studying easier, instead of time-consuming face-to-face appointments, probation permitted less time-consuming telephone appointments.

It’s fair to say that I no longer bear a grudge against probation; quite the opposite.  Professionals working in the probation service, which itself has been through a radical overhaul, regularly go above and beyond to support those sent that way by the courts, and I say this to anybody who is anxious about their upcoming period of supervision.

So here I am – a graduate signed up and working as a probation service officer. I am committed to using my lived experience of the criminal justice system to further reform it from the inside.

In time, I will be able to comment on whether that pledge has been a success or a failure. My colleagues have welcomed me warmly from the outset, and enthusiastically explain the acronyms so common in the service (OASys is just one) – without knowing that as an ex-probationer, I know them all too well!

I feel that my opportunity in the world of probation is, perhaps, an experiment of sorts, but I’m OK with that. I’m ready for the challenge. I encourage anybody reading this article not to write off any job role that seems inaccessible because, in time, situations change. There is always a need for talent, drive, creativity and resilience – qualities that can often be found in surprising places. Scholars and other graduates who have studied in or after prison have these in abundance. I have found a meaningful and fulfilling role and I intend to stay at probation for the long haul.


Find out more here about our new employability scheme for Longford scholars.

 

Top Tips for employers and people with convictions: disclosure

Author: | 21 Jun 2022

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve stolen a penny sweet or killed someone…we won’t take people with convictions.

Imagine hearing those words when you’ve done your time, moved on and are making a success of life. These words from a recruitment agent to a scholar, who had followed the disclosure process by the book, hurt. Though, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Our new Longford employability scheme helps past and present scholars turning a degree into a career. The support includes guidance on telling an employer about a past conviction.

For Longford Blog, ex-scholar Neil reflects on what he’s learnt from his experiences….

First things first, some employers handled my criminal declaration well. They offered me the opportunity to sit in front of them and tell my story. Others, including the recruitment agency who treat theft of a penny sweet as seriously as taking a life, and a justice charity (in theory champions of rehabilitation) both managed my disclosure badly.

So poorly, it dented my already fragile confidence. Dented, but thankfully, I have ultimately used the anger and feelings of rejection to good effect, fuelling my search for more enlightened employers. Happily, before I chart some less good experiences, I write this now working in an academic role for a university.

However, before securing this role, I fell foul of confusion over disclosure on several occasions. The Rehabilitation of Offenders (1974), amended in 2014, sets out when and if people need to tell a prospective employer about a previous offence (‘unspent’) and when they don’t need to, in order to properly move on in their lives. In one case, a new employer misunderstood the records checks. This meant that having passed a basic level of disclosure and with my feet under the table in a new team, I ended up being put through a late more detailed enhanced check.

As I knew my previous conviction would show up under an enhanced check, I told my line manager, naively thinking, in this case, my honesty would indicate a integrity and be met with respect. Within half an hour of my declaration, however, I was escorted from the building and told I couldn’t continue in the position.

I sat outside the office in my car, shaking, riddled with anxiety and in shock. After telling my family, in the interests of balance, I did receive a phone call from the organisation who apologised, aware of the hypocrisy; an organisation committed to providing rehabilitative opportunities and second chances. Through my own investigations, I understood the employer had not acted illegally fighting my case.

I had to move forward, using my anger, hurt and resentment as a driver to finish my studies.

Sadly, I was no stranger to discrimination in the workplace. Ten years previously, I’d also fallen foul of another confused recruitment process by a charity where the employer admitted potentially illegal behaviour.

Long story short, this was another retrospective investigation into my past after they had overlooked the box which I’d ticked to say I had a conviction. The offer of the job continued but the nature of my role changed overnight.

I had to wait to be deemed ‘safe’ enough to be integrated with everyone else in my team.

Fortunately, I was mature enough to understand fears about potential reputational damage (it was a centre for children and vulnerable adults) and was continually informed by my line manager of discussions within senior management as to whether my treatment was fair, justified and proportionate. Ultimately, neither employer nor employee really knew how best to navigate the situation. Through open and transparent dialogue, we made the best of a difficult situation and I saw my employment contract through.

Stigma and shame

However, my treatment re-enforced a sense of stigma, shame and sadness that I still carry internally. Maybe it’s an overreaction on my part but I am interested in other people’s thoughts at this treatment by a charity whose mantra, at least in principle, emphasised fairness and social justice.

Although these experiences hurt deeply, I knew I had the strength to channel the discrimination positively.  I finished my studies, recently finding employment at a local university; a good news story to finish this Blog with.

Good news

After an interview in January 2022 and a subsequent telephone conversation, I was offered a research position at a university. Of course, my initial thoughts turned to disclosure. Once I realised my conviction would show, I immediately phoned my potential line manager to offer a declaration whilst requesting an opportunity to provide more information to help their decision-making.

True, my experiences suggested an honest approach could backfire, but I really wanted this job. But, if an employer would let a 20-year-old conviction dictate their thinking, then I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

Yet again, I had to recount a very difficult, painful time in my life to strangers. However, at each stage of the process my, now current, line manager showed sensitivity and support, explaining what would happen in clear terms.

In short, I felt supported and reassured at every step of the process.

This positive experience has, to my mind, key ingredients of how a good recruitment process for people with convictions works. For example, the employer outlines the exact level of records check at the outset so the potential candidate understands if their conviction/s will show. As importantly, the person can then decide whether it’s worth the effort and potential heartache of applying.

In my experience, if the conviction will be revealed, it’s best to get in front of the employer, to highlight any mitigation and positive, subsequent progress. As past and present Longford Scholars, we are much more than what’s written about us.

A face- to- face meeting allows time to gather thoughts, references and written statements which are useful if you’re nervous talking about your offence. Over time some convictions disappear but it’s useful to practice this conversation.

Looking back, I’m better equipped to deal with rejection, prejudice or discrimination. I’ve developed the resilience and emotional armour to deal more confidently with a knockback in a socially acceptable manner. I am continually improving my job prospects with a confident, strengths-based approach.

 

 

 

Not just another brick in the wall

Author: | 18 May 2022

This week prisons and the justice system have been in the news. Firstly, a joint justice inspectors’ report found recovery from the pandemic at ‘unacceptable levels in some areas’, whilst education is too often neglected. Today, MPs have called for urgent action to strengthen people’s access to high-standard education whilst in prison.

Our Director Peter Stanford, who gave evidence to the House of Commons Committee has written for Longford Blog:

There are some pressing, damaging problems that face us as a society where readily achievable solutions are hard to find, or else hotly contested.  Thankfully, that is not the case when it comes to tackling the staggeringly high number of prisoners who reoffend within 12 months of release. Depending on which figures you use, the current rate is between 40 and 60%.  We know a good part of the answer.  So the only real question is why are we not acting on that knowledge.

Today’s report, Not just another brick in the wall: why prisoners need an education to climb the ladder of opportunity, from the Select Committee on Education on prison education once again confirms that a decent, well-funded education system in our prisons has enormous potential to change lives, cut reoffending, reduce the cost to the taxpayer of prisons, and make us all safer.  But this message is nothing new or surprising.

In 2015, for example, I was a member of the panel working under Dame Sally Coates on a report on prison education. We handed Unlocking Potential, our recommendations, to the then Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, in 2016 and he promised, in public, to implement them ‘without hesitation, repetition or deviation’.

Yet, as the Select Committee’s report sets out, next to nothing has happened about the vast majority of Coates recommendations. So it makes them all over again.

Will it be different this time round?  Well, I have faith that, if you say something sensible often enough, eventually someone will listen.  I therefore agreed to appear before the committee in April 2021 to offer once again the perspective of the Longford Trust from its work supporting young serving and ex-prisoners to go to university.

At the end of my session, I was asked by the committee chair, Robert Halfon, what I would most like to see change.  At the risk of repeating myself, I said supervised internet access for serving prisoners so they can benefit from all the life-changing opportunities that distance learning with providers like the Open University offers.

And the Select Committee makes that one of their main recommendations. It also backs another long-standing wish of the Longford Trust – that student loans should be available not just to serving prisoners with six years or less to go on their tariff (the so-called Six-Year-Rule), but to all who can demonstrate that higher education studies would improve their prospect of rehabilitation.

On this second point, though, a junior minister at the Department for Education is reported as having told the Select Committee that the government did not want to give student loans to prisoners, ‘who have no prospect of paying those loans back’.

Does he think that prisoners never come out, never go on to use the educational qualifications they have undertaken while inside to get well-paid jobs?   More than 80 per cent of Longford Scholarship award-holders, all of whom receive student loans, do precisely that.

Evidently not, which dampens hopes that this Select Committee report will succeed where others before have failed in focussing minds on improving prison education. But we will continue unceasingly to argue the case because we know from experience that it is unanswerable.

Education changes lives for the better, in prison as everywhere else.

Aiming high: keeping hope alive in prisons

Author: | 6 May 2022

In November last year, social justice commentator George the Poet gave a thought-provoking speech to Longford supporters, scholars and mentors.

He talked about the game being rigged – not just in prisons and the justice system but across society. He said ‘there are no choices without chances’, proposing that prisons should be re-modelled as development centres with opportunities, rather than detention centres.

George’s words  [watch again here] continue to resonate, so much so that months later former scholar, Richard got in touch with his own reflections:

Time and rehabilitation

Inside you have time, time to reset. On the outside, we wish we had more of it.

Spending three years in prison from 2007-2010 gave me insight into how the prison system is ‘rigged’, stacking the odds against individuals, focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

I only heard the word ‘rehab’ in association with drug taking. What I experienced was underfunding, undertrained/skilled staff in rehabilitation, limited options, limited information, limited support and guidance. I pushed for avenues to develop and use time wisely, but was told, ‘we’re not geared up for people like you’.  People like me, wanting to use my time productively, rehabilitate myself. A strange response to me under the circumstances.

I took Carpentry City and Guilds, Business Studies and Personal Training courses until funding lapsed on all. I even managed, through special permission from the governor to gain internet access to complete my University application (at first denied) and just squeaked into the Autumn 2009 intake.

When I went to prison it was my first offence, devastating and traumatic for everyone involved but I had all the support anyone could want in that situation. For that I consider myself lucky. Many friends inside weren’t so fortunate. I did ok in school but I couldn’t help but question what hope there was for those spat out of school, in care, or just not encouraged when young in school, or even by their parents.

Education, work and health are the basic principles in society.

The Game is Rigged: Detention Centre or Development Centres?

34% of prisoners read at the level below an 11year old. This is no coincidence. It’s good to see we now have a prisons inspector, Charlie Taylor, who is determined to address this literacy defecit.  Prison is the last line of defence in my view, it must be a duty of society to provide these opportunities, a real option to rehabilitate, a second chance I thought. This doesn’t need to be traditional education, it starts with support and information of where to start, developing and building on your interests with opportunities associated to those outside the prison walls. A place of hope and clarity. Only then can everyone in prison look in the mirror and decide to take that option of development, or not.

Without this support the game must be rigged, right?

The only ‘help’ preparing me for my release focused on the need to tell an employer I have a criminal record and that it will never be classed as ‘spent’, emphasising to me it was against the law not to disclose.

In the first five interviews after finishing my degree I declared my record, resulting in me not moving to the next stage. In my sixth interview I said nothing, went through 2 interviews and got offered the Job. I then declared it and it was not an issue. I have moved companies five times since, all with the same outcome. I’m not necessarily advocating this approach but certainly at that time it seemed the only way to move on.

Hope and Chances : ‘Making it a worthwhile place to be’ 

 I didn’t want to become part of the system and a statistic. Educating or bettering myself however I could was a MUST, a driver for me and I’d urge everyone to think alike. There should be a trained staff member who goes around prisons, like a career advisor in effect, understanding what skills people possess and how those can be transferred into society. Would vocational, education or simple support and mentoring help?  What avenues of funding are available post release? What level does an individual need to be at on release to access a college course and help devise a road map to get there. Starting off is the hardest step of all. It’s about problem-solving – we all need to do it from time to time.

I can’t help thinking it would be great if prisons were like colleges and universities, specialised in certain areas: prison radio, cookery, trades, creative and arts, sports.  Again, become places of hope, providing the opportunity to develop an individual for their release, a successful release. Educating on not just subject matter but on life. Interpersonal skills, money management and communication are more important than ever. Giving people information on moving out of their home area, how they’ll feel, and what a new chapter can bring. And credit where credit is due it’s great to see local and national businesses, especially in construction starting to recruit from prisons. It’s an obvious talent pool, individuals can be fully trained and on site in just 12 weeks. Though maybe we shouldn’t get into the prison building plan (that’s another blog!).

So, as George the Poet says, there are no choices without chances and for now it’s largely up to organisations like Longford Trust and others to provide real tangible chance. They gave me that second chance and support I much needed at the time, 6 months prior to my release I met my mentor and secured scholarship funding which paid for my accommodation. They helped me to get a part time job and I moved from prison to university life with as little baggage as possible.

In truth, most critically they believed in me. They believed in my ability and the financial help fostered my ability to focus on my studies despite being severely dyslexic. It put me near to the opportunities my class mates had with emotional and financial support from their families. I completed my degree with a 1st class honours degree, top of my class in Project & Construction Management. With a chance given to develop, other successes will follow. There is no doubt.

I have gone on to manage over 300 men on site in central London, built some of the most prestigious, high-end hotels you can imagine to the tune of over £80m.

It all started somewhere and it’s quite easy to pinpoint. It began the day I first met my mentor.

If only the same level of hope, opportunity and belief in potential were hardwired into the prison system, then we’d have something to celebrate.

 

You can watch George the Poet’s lecture here.

 

 

 

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.

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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: https://www.longfordtrust.org/scholarships/the-longford-scholarships/ 

 The closing date is 5th June 2022.

 

 

 

Join us! Exciting new job opportunity with Longford Trust

Author: | 2 Mar 2022

 

New: Employability Manager (Part-time)                                                                                                                             

Since its founding in 2002, the Longford Trust has grown organically. Its five current core team members all work virtually, with regular face-to-face and on-line team meetings and phone calls.  We do not have a shared office.

However, we believe there is a strong team spirit and collective ethos allowing the trust to deliver a high standard and to develop  programmes in higher education for young people in/after prison.  The new role of employability manager reflects the trust’s decision – after a pilot programme for the past year– to help prepare scholars for degree level careers after graduation. The employability support is in addition to the existing financial and mentoring support for our award-holders.

Ideally, we would like to recruit someone with lived experience of the criminal justice system and a good knowledge of the higher education system, graduate recruitment and an understanding of the Longford Trust, and what it does.

Pay and conditions

  • one day per week, but time could be split over two half days
  • pro-rata of £30,000 pa, with annual pay review
  • paid monthly in arrears by bank transfer
  • The Longford Trust has no employees. Each member of the team is a freelance consultant and invoices the trust monthly for their agreed fee. Each member is responsible for paying their own tax and National Insurance. A designated mobile can be provided to undertake trust calls, for which the trust would pay. And a contribution can be made towards office equipment.
  • If, in exceptional circumstances, extra days are required, they will be paid at a day rate of £250.
  • There will be a three-month supported probationary period, followed if your appointment is confirmed by regular appraisals from your line manager and/or the director.
  • Your consultancy contract with the trust can be ended at one month’s notice.

Scope

The trustees have identified four specific areas which together will make up the employability area of our work:

  • Training: organising regular day-long workshops during the year that are offered to past and present scholars, run in partnership with another charity.
  • Introductory service: through existing and new supporters build a range of internships, placements and volunteering roles. Also develop international study travel scholarships. Organising references where appropriate.
  • Coaching: short-term, one-to-one pairings, of career-focused mentors to help build scholars’ confidence, networks and resilience.
  • peer-support and networking: ‘Career Club’– led by demand from our current and ex-scholars, the creation of an on-line community (including potential face to face meet-ups) among job-seeking scholars to boost support and connectivity during a job search.

 

What You Will Be Doing?

  • Work to agreed goals for each quarter, set with your line manager and the director, you will focus on these four areas.
  • Key to success will be getting to know award-holders who are making their post-graduation career plans
  • guiding scholars into the various supports that the employability programme can offer and guide towards other sources of support to help realise their potential
  • responding on an individual basis, listening to what they are saying (and not saying), all within the boundaries of the employability scheme.
  • building links with existing supporters and new contacts, especially employers, who show an interest in offering our award-holders work placements and internships
  • supporting scholars into those work placements and internships.
  • Liaison point for coaches, mentoring manager and scholars.
  • Creating an engaged career-focused community–this element offers most scope for creativity, taking a germ of an idea and trying to build something robust and helpful, based on scholar feedback. Use Linked-In, perhaps.

 

 Who Will You Work With Closely?

 You will be line-managed, initially, by our scholarship manager, who has run the employability pilot and will continue to be the ongoing first point of contact in relation to scholars and their requirements.

You will also be supported by the office manager who will guide you on how the Trust’s systems work – in terms of finance, record keeping, key policies around how we work and the data-base.

When tackling the coaching aspect of your work, you will liaise with our mentoring manager.

And in such a small team as we are, you will also be talking and exchanging ideas with the director, who plays an active role in the scholarship and mentoring programme.

What we are looking for:

We would like to recruit someone with lived experience of the criminal justice system and a good knowledge of the higher education system.

The successful candidate will demonstrate:

  • good communications skills
  • empathy
  • a passion for prison reform and second chances
  • effective team working whilst also taking the initiative
  • strong planning and administrative skills
  • an ability to organise your own work time, exercise self-discipline and be effective at working alone,
  • good judgement about when to collaborate with colleagues for support and guidance on the way forward and issues that present themselves.

 What Next?

If you are interested in the role and want more information, contact Peter Stanford, director of the Trust: director@longfordtrust.org.  To apply send an up-to-date CV, and a letter setting out why you think you are right to Peter at the same email address. Closing date: 18th March 2022.

Important: Please include the name and contact details of two referees

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview from the week beginning 21st March 2022 (by zoom or in person) with a starting date of early/mid April 2022 preferred.