PUPiL Blog: Inside 'Learning Criminology Inside' - Reflections from a student at HMP Risley

The first cohort of students for Learning Criminology Inside completed the teaching part of the course in December 2017 and the assessments in January 2018.  This was led by Prof. Shadd Maruna, Dr Rose Broad and Dr Caroline Miles. This partnership between the University of Manchester and HMP Risley was a 3rd year BA Criminology course unit called 'From Imprisonment to Rehabilitation'. This pilot project was funded by the University’s Centre for Higher Education Research, Innovation and Learning (CHERIL), and this funding included resources for a dedicated researcher. Here Joe a prison-based student from this first cohort tells us about his experiences on the course.

Completing the course has given me a sense of achievement and the realisation that I can work outside of my comfort zone, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Recently I was given the opportunity to take part in a first-time initiative which involved the University of Manchester coming into HMP Risley, and alongside university students, a group of inmates would take part in university level learning. The course on offer was Learning Criminology Inside and specifically, a third-year module called ‘From Imprisonment to Rehabilitation’. Over a 12-week period we would attend seminars and lectures with a number of guest speakers discussing topics such as Transforming Rehabilitation, managing potentially dangerous offenders and the management of women in prisons. 

At our first meeting with the organisers we were asked what we expected to get out of being involved in the project, and briefed on what would be expected from us as students. They explained that there would be quite a lot of reading, that we would have to write an essay, and also complete a multiple choice and short answer assessment. 

Before the end of this initial meeting I almost withdrew my application as, to be honest, it sounded like a lot of work at a level that I was not used to. Something inside, however, told me to stay the course and put myself outside of my comfort zone.

Before the end of this initial meeting I almost withdrew my application as, to be honest, it sounded like a lot of work at a level that I was not used to. Something inside, however, told me to stay the course and put myself outside of my comfort zone and give it a go; at least it would give me the opportunity to get out of my pad and meet some new people. 

By the time the first seminar came around I almost made an excuse not to attend as I started to listen to the negative voices in my head telling me that I would not be able to complete the course to a level that I would be happy with. Nevertheless, I did attend and was happy to find that the university students all seemed very welcoming and friendly. As I look back I realise that they too most probably had apprehensions of their own, as for many if not all, this would probably have been their first time in a prison with a room full of prisoners. 

I didn’t contribute that much in way of outspoken opinion in that first session as I was trying to get a feel for how things would play out in the sessions. I left that day feeling happy that I did attend, but still unsure as to what I would be able to contribute and what I would get from the course. 

As I look back I realise that they too most probably had apprehensions of their own, as for many if not all, this would probably have been their first time in a prison with a room full of prisoners. 

That first week we were given our reading pack and a book that would prove to be a great help when it came to writing my essay. Being quite a keen reader I took it thinking I would get through it as the same type of speed as ii would a book out of the library. Boy was I wrong! By the end of my first part of reading I had a list of words that I had never even heard, let alone knew the meaning of. The material was unlike anything I’d ever read before and the words just didn’t seem to be going in. However, I persevered and was determined to get my head around it, so I looked up the meanings of words I didn’t understand, kept on reading and slowly things started to make a bit more sense. 

As the weeks went by there were some very interesting speakers. My favourite wasn’t actually at a seminar, but at out end of course celebration, by a man called Peter Atherton who runs a company called Community Led Initiatives that helps people who have been released from prison and could use some advice and guidance. His talk gave me hope that I too will be able to make something of my life when I get released and I look forward to meeting up with him when I do. 

The material was unlike anything I’d ever read before and the words just didn’t seem to be going in. However, I persevered and was determined to get my head around it, so I looked up the meanings of words I didn’t understand, kept on reading and slowly things started to make a bit more sense.

In the last few weeks we began to prepare to write our essays by providing a plan and getting feedback on them. By this time I felt that I had found my stride and had enough of an understanding to tackle what would be the longest piece of written work I had ever produced. During this time there was a lot more reading and research, but over the next few weeks I put together a piece of work that I for one can say I am proud of. 

We finished the course by completing an assessment with multiple choice and short answer questions and I can honestly say that I will miss the Learning Criminology Inside course and all of the people that I met while doing it. I am yet to find out my mark for my essay and assessment and whether or not I have passed, but either way, completing the course has given me a sense of achievement and the realisation that I can work outside of my comfort zone, and for that I will forever be grateful. 

Joe passed the module with a mark of 67%. He reported being "well happy" and "buzzing" with his overall mark. He said he had written 4 or 5 drafts of his essay and was asking what he needed to do to get a first. He offered support to other prison-based students on the course in completing their assignments as his confidence grew.  He said that the university-based students really helped him with his confidence as they were interested in what he had to say and made him feel that his opinions mattered.  

 

This is part of the PUPiL blog series. If you would like to respond to the points and issues raised in this blog, or to contribute to the blog yourself, please contact Morwenna.