Second chances for ex-offenders through education

The Longford Scholarships

Scholars report back

“I got into radio upon release and was encouraged to attend university to become a professional broadcaster.”

We supported Jason in media and communications at Goldsmiths' College.  He graduated and is now sponsored by a national newspaper through an MA in Broadcast Journalism City University.

Jason reports back:

I am now an official Bachelor of Arts graduate from the University of London. What is really strange is that I now have the confidence, ability and determination to succeed in whatever I put my hand to. Even though we are in the most depressive recession for a long time which affects ex-offenders extremely hard, I have managed to secure a funded place to one of the most prestigious broadcast journalism courses in the country, supported by a huge media group. I am also on a short list for another media group’s scheme which provides a  year’s training to work within programme acquisitions. Essentially my options are bright and it is all down to taking a chance, asking for help and putting in the work.

My life was not meant to turn out this way. I had a traumatic childhood which consisted of abandonment, fear, abuse, starvation, shame, chaos and an acute understanding that I was not like everyone else. I still remember being encouraged to steal an orange from a market stall at the tender age of 10. From that moment on, I realised that I could take things and get away with it. That revelation kept me stealing until I first got arrested at 13. The main problem with getting arrested was that no-one actually asked me why I was doing this, everyone just told me to stop. Unfortunately my crime career escalated until I ended up in the Old Bailey at 15 and was sent down a week after my 16th birthday.

Young offenders’ institutions were like living in a wild jungle as the tension would surge through the wings and one had to defend one’s space constantly or be eaten by the vultures. After being transferred to the most brutal young offenders’ training camp in Dorset, I realised that I never wanted to be a criminal. I was only serving a two-year sentence but found myself surrounded with others serving four and five years. I took some education classes and managed to gain a place on a brick-laying course. On release, I never had any direction and found myself back at my mother’s house with my friends knocking on my door.

The second day of release was greeted with police officers searching my friends and arresting them for possession of weed. I realised nothing changes, if I don’t change. So I secured a job as a yard labourer and worked for three months. During that time my friends who were not in prison were starting to sell drugs and were showing me the proceeds, which was far more than my meagre £3 an hour. I quit my job and went back to street life full time. Throughout this period I was completely hooked on drugs and alcohol which distorted my perceptions to the point where anything I should know as bad felt so good.

Needless to say I ended up back in prison for two periods of remand for robberies. I was acquitted for those crimes which propelled me to commit more crimes. I lasted 18 months before being arrested again and sentenced to a three-year prison term. During that sentence I turned 21 so I had to move to an adult prison. Initially I was scared but adult jails are full of drug addicts so I felt right at home in the place. I had given up on trying to do anything else with my life and spent my time plotting on crimes to commit once I was released.

I came out of prison and lasted another nine months before being recalled and convicted of a commercial burglary. My sentence was another three years and I had a heavy case hanging over me which would have finished me off for a long time. At the time I was sharing a cell with a guy of my age who came back with 10 years. I really felt it for him and wanted a chance at life. My next cell mate was serving 14 years and he ended up dying in prison. Luckily that other heavy case fell through and I understood that I had another chance at life. I went back to education and was directed to attend a prison radio course. I completed a B-Tech National Diploma at distinction level, which was my highest qualification and started my hunger to complete more courses. I ended up at an open prison where I worked for the prison magazine and was the main reporter.

I was released in Sussex which saved my life as I was not back in London dealing with the madness. I started addressing my drug addiction problems, met new friends, volunteered at charities and practised my skills at various radio stations in the area. One of the producers at a radio station suggested that I should attend university as most professionals working in radio had degrees and I would be able to move faster through the ranks.

I applied for a foundation course at Sussex University and Goldsmiths, University of London. I received the dreaded rejection letter from Sussex but managed to gain a place at Goldsmiths. The only problem with Goldsmiths was the area surrounding the college; it had been my stomping ground throughout my teenage years.

I took a huge risk and it paid off. I gained a foundation degree in media and communication with a first. I also received an award for academic excellence and was paid £500 for being a good student. I think the law has now changed but whilst studying for the foundation course, I was allowed to sign on which helped me throughout my course. However, I had to think about applying for a BA. My initial thought was that I never had any money, so really had nothing to loose in applying for the loans, if it meant that I would gain a qualification, experience and confidence that would ensure that I could change my life.

I received offers from five good universities but chose to stay at Goldsmiths as I liked the college; it was a completely different world to the surrounding area. After completing my first year, I got myself into a lot of debt. Banks would offer interest free overdrafts which I thought I could max out on clothes and parties. I also was allowed to have credit cards which again were maxed out due to my lack of experience dealing with financial matters. As a criminal I would just spend money as I could always get more.  However, as a student, I could not work full time as I had to study. I really struggled through the summer of my first year but was then pointed in the direction of the Longford Trust. The charity funded ex-offenders through degree programmes and I thought I had nothing to loose in applying.

I received a scholarship for my second and third years of study which help enormously to pay of some of my financial debts. The scholarship also provided an extra bit of breathing space and time to focus more attention towards my studies. I still had to work part time but did not have to work more than 15 hours a week. Education has truly changed my life and university is one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had. I have met some really fantastic people from all walks of life and found most people really accepting of my situation. I never forget my first appearance on television where I was being interviewed about knife crime and some of my class mates happened to be watching the programme. I had a lot of explaining to do but most people thought I was inspirational to be able to turn my life around.

Today is truly amazing as I do not have to wake up looking for an immediate fix to escape the monotony that used to be my life, living in fear of getting arrested or one of my enemies finally catching me off guard, knowing that I was causing destruction and not knowing any way out of that lifestyle. As I said before, I am now a graduate but I still have a long way to go as more young people need to understand that there is more to life than crime, violence and drugs. I would not have succeeded without the support from the Longford Trust and special thanks goes out to my mentors Joe Baden and Steve McCormack who have allowed me to become the person who I was always meant to be.

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