How education gave me a second chance

Author: | 24 Mar 2023

Excluded from school for being disruptive Neil had no interest in education when he was sent to prison. But slowly he caught the learning bug and now has a degree to his name.  For Longford Blog he describes how, with our backing, he landed his dream job in prison reform.


The letters A,B,C,D are probably the most important determination of a teenager’s future, the higher the letter, the better their chances of carving out a successful career. Unfortunately for me, instead of getting a GCSE grade, I received a different sort of B – I was sent to a Category B prison.


Even if I’d stayed at school I probably wouldn’t have passed any of my exams. I had no enthusiasm for education, was disruptive and an all-round nuisance for the teachers who passionately gave up their time despite my antics. Looking back, this was even more depressing as I actually had an ability to achieve: I started out in all the top sets but found myself in the lower tiers because of my behaviour.


I was suspended and subsequently permanently expelled. A gaping hole in my personal development and a lack of structure left me destined for failure. And I became the ultimate failure, committed an horrendous crime and – rightly so -received a custodial sentence for longer than I had been alive.


Getting back on track


Spending time in the juvenile prison estate meant that I was faced with my arch nemesis again – education. True to fashion, I wasn’t interested, had zero motivation to learn, and attended just to get out of my cell. Now, 16 years on, I have a degree with first-class honours, am halfway through an MA in Crime and Justice, and I already have a blueprint for a possible PhD.


So how did I get hooked on education? In prison there is a requirement to complete Maths and English to an adequate level. For me this was boring but essential. Once you have completed the foundations, other courses become available. After spending four years passing English and Maths, I was invited to study Sociology at GCSE level. At this point I was more mature and enjoyed my tutor using the Sociology syllabus to help me understand how society works. As well as a qualification, I was learning about myself and how I had found myself in prison.


Getting motivated


I guess when there is an intrinsic motivation you are more committed to learn. As time went on, I was excited by study. I even washed the sleep out of my eyes to ensure I was bright and early for class. As well as attending lessons, I would pull out the books on a night-time and indulge in reading stuff outside the syllabus.


I stuck at it and achieved a respectable grade B. I had caught the education bug. With the same inspirational teacher, I next completed 7 more GCSEs. Then my tutor suggested I start higher education at The Open University.


Distance Learning and Student Loans


I continued with the Social Sciences, took advantage of a student loan to pay for my OU module costs and dedicated my time to learning. After navigating the prison system’s distance learning troubles, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences. I was ready to stop there. I was already anxious about release and didn’t want to incur any more debts through student finance.


Fortunately, I was responsible for helping other prisoners choose higher education opportunities and was made aware by my peers of what The Longford Trust offers. I noticed the energy and positivity among those who were on a Longford Scholarship and I wanted in! I applied and, to my delight, they awarded me three years of funding towards an MA in Crime and Justice.


A scholarship that goes beyond money


Once I had been accepted, the Trust’s director came to meet me in prison, explained that the scholarship is more than paying for tuition fees, and talked to me about finding a suitable mentor. Over and above the financial aspect of the scholarship, one of the key advantages it provides is having one of the Trust’s trained mentors to support you one-to-one.


I have now been in the community for twelve months and The Longford Trust has shared my resettlement journey with me. As well as getting my studies transferred smoothly from prison to community, they have offered me professional advice and a helping hand whenever I need it. So much so that they helped me land my dream job of helping fight for fairer outcomes in the criminal justice system. My rehabilitation journey would look incredibly different without them.


If you feel inspired by Neil’s story and would like to apply for a Longford Scholarship, contact Clare Lewis for details or an application form, or write to her at Freepost, Longford Trust (you don’t need a stamp)