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!