Well tomorrow marks the 7 week countdown before I begin my degree in Criminology! To say I am excited and proud would only be a tiny understatement! And, I promise I am not counting!
With my education journey about to begin I have been reflecting on the opportunities that were available to me in prison….. I should end the blog here! These options were minimal. While I agree that the majority of prisoners may have had a lack of formal education prior to their prison sentence, that is not true for all prisoners. And even so, a lack of formal education doesn’t mean a lack of education, ambition and aspirations. Many are far more skilled than people would believe. Many hidden talents going unnoticed and to waste.
I was offered a level 2 adult literacy and maths course but after sitting an initial exam in my induction process, I didn’t need to do these courses. I then signed up for my level 2 certificate in I.T which was an 8 week course and I completed all modules in 2 weeks. Drake Hall did offer hair dressing and beauty therapy courses however that was not my cup of tea and the waiting list for those were months. I was trying to find any course that I could do just to pass the time. I signed up to do a Level 1 customer service course which I attended after a 6 week wait. That took me two sessions and I was complete however due to me being so far ahead I had to slow down my work to be in line with the rest of the class.
With the hairdressing and beauty therapy courses being out of the question for me, and the only other options being very basic level, I applied to do the gym based qualifications as I was always in the gym and then became a gym orderly. I did my level 1 certificate in gym based exercise and then went on to complete my level 2 in Fitness instructing. These courses for me were great because it was all knew to me, so it kept me interested in learning new things and also kept me fit and socialising with prisoners who were trying to learn new skills and qualifications to use post release. Little did we anticipate the ordeals we were to meet ‘on the out’.
Aside from my gym qualifications which took me about 6 months to gain, my family paid for a distance learning course, which I completed along side my gym work. This was a diploma in Personal Life Style Development. I passed this with a A* and it filled my time with research in the prison library and typing and sending my essays for marking. That course was quite in depth and took me about a year. I could have gone on to do a level 3 gym qualification in Personal Training however I was due to be released before I would have completed and I was working out of the prison on ROTL. My gym qualifications are a great achievement however they havn’t yet been utilised. My fitness regime also went down the drain upon my release! Joining the gym every January to leave by March!
It is great and obvious that prisons need to offer maths and literacy for prisoners who have little education. But very worrying that for people with long sentences, who may have had an education prior to prison, the only thing on offer to them is gym qualifications and hair and beauty. As well as people who have short sentences who may wait months for a place on a course, only to be told they will be released before it ends so they can’t do it.
I was never informed of or guided to Open University courses in prison which is a shame as that would have been good for me. In fact, I don’t recall ever meeting a woman in Drake Hall who was studying with the Open University. I was never asked what I was good at, never asked what I liked doing and never asked what I wanted to do once I was released. I was also never informed of The Longford Trust who offer scholarships and mentors for former prisoners to access Higher Education. I found them online and I am lucky to now benefit from their scheme post release.
I saw many women benefit from Level 1 and 2 qualifications in Maths, English and I.T. The hair and beauty therapy courses also helped a lot of women gain qualifications and skills to use up on their release however it seemed to me that women entering prison who already have a good knowledge of English Maths and were I.T literate, there was very little on offer for them. I don’t understand why so little is on offer in terms of education for woman who have been sentenced to a prison term. For women serving short sentences, most are not there long enough to wait for a place and then complete the duration of the course and for women serving long sentences there were minimal opportunities available to them above level 1&2. So, a woman could be serving a 6 year sentence, complete the gym based qualifications and the hair and beauty courses in 3 years and then have three years left with no educational opportunities of benefit to her.
There were no careers advisers to tailor an educational support programme to assist with employment goals and aspirations, there was no support of encouragement to aspire for a career post release at all. The education department who facilitate the courses had next to no information on how to access any education other than what they offered.
I am thankful for my I.T certificates and my Gym qualifications but very much disheartened by the sheer lack of education accessible to all serving prisoners.