I have loved learning all my life. School, however, was not for me. From day one, I had problems with nursery, infant, junior, and secondary school before being permanently excluded. But I had no problems with learning. That’s the thing with learning: it is everywhere.
I’m not suggesting my goal was to be permanently excluded, but both the school and I got what we wanted in the end. I was free to go on my own education journey. Unfortunately, most of that journey took place in the school-to-prison pipeline and then within the criminal justice system. However, it was what it was! And here we are now, in a not unfortunate set of circumstances.
As much as I advocate for improvements in the provision of education in prison, I must admit that education is an area of prison that has seen a host of improvements over the years. This is thanks to the Open University (OU), charities such as Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), and organizations like the National Extension College (NEC).
I first became involved with distance learning in 2005, when, through financial support from PET, I began studying with the NEC. I earned many qualifications related to the work I did in prison, like mentoring and peer support, as well as those in the basics, like English and math. My highest qualification was a level three certificate Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector.
During what I knew would be my last ever prison sentence, I wanted to earn a degree by participating in the daddy of prison education programs — or at least the daddy of distance learning — The Open University.
I had many reasons for studying for a degree in prison, including:
- To pass the time and keep my mind active when behind my cell door.
- To find out if my childhood teachers were right and to see what would happen if I did fully apply myself.
- To learn to speak “their” language — to speak properly and stop using language that would get doors slammed in my face. I knew that would happen anyway, so why add to it?
- To understand the lessons of my “lived experience,” and how to use it in a way that would have the most impact.
I began with the OU by taking an access module called “Understanding people, work and society” before moving on to work on — and earn — a bachelor’s degree in criminology and psychology. I continue studying by taking OU’s Open Learn courses.
I am proud to say, I achieved everything I set out to achieve and continue to do so. Along the way, I also learned, and continue to learn, so much about myself.
The more I learn, the more I want to know.
Some of my most peaceful moments in prison were while studying in the early hours before the noise of prison kicked in. Such a profound silence. Peaceful beyond explanation. Therefore, if I find things getting a bit too noisy in my mind, I take myself back, and these days, I don’t need to commit a crime first.
Education makes the impossible, possible.
David Breakspear began his journey as a returning citizen after four decades of experience in the criminal justice system. Since his release in June 2017, he has spoken to Parliament and delivered a TEDx talk about educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals. He is an organized crime researcher and the author of a novel on that topic called A Father’s Son. He lives in the U.K., where he continues to share his experiences and his passion for reform. Learn more about David from his website: journeyofareformedman.net.