Juan: "Education helped me cope during my sentence."
Education helped Juan*, now 43, cope with an eight year prison sentence. As well as developing his love of learning and helping others by assisting the teacher in class, he says education felt safe.
“Education helps to cut violence, bullying and self-harming. In other parts of the prison things were always kicking off, the alarms were going all the time but in education it was very unusual for anything like that to occur” he says.
Juan was inspired to learn after meeting many teachers who were passionate about their work and encouraged him. After gaining GCSEs in the prison he was keen to keep studying and as he is originally from Colombia, one of the teachers suggested he could benefit from getting a formal qualification for English-Spanish translation. After successfully completing this course with PET he went on to study a range of others funded by the charity including: AS English Language and Literature, Interior Design and degree modules.
He says: “Education keeps you busy so you are not concentrating on other stuff. It helped me cope during my sentence. It reduces bullying, encourages people to achieve and get a qualification. Studying kept me on target, kept my mind fresh and up-to-date with the latest developments.
“There were many hurdles, security clearance, getting the right forms, no access to information online, I needed specific materials…it was a steep mountain to climb but I got permission from Governor and the education department was supportive throughout, they kept saying ‘don’t give up’.
“I became a classroom assistant and helped out in the IT department, it shocked me the amount of literacy problems people had but I saw the toughest people switch off and behave themselves in class because they were reading and learning. I enjoyed teaching.
“When I started going to college under the release on temporary license (ROTL) scheme I encouraged others to do it and apply themselves so they could get higher qualifications than were on offer in the prison, like barbering level 3 for example, to help them set up a business or get a job.”
ROTL also helped Juan reconnect with his family and develop his relationships with his wife and two teenage children. Since leaving prison three and a half years ago Juan has moved to London with them. He now works as a caretaker and occasionally does freelance translation while he continues his Open University studies.
* Juan is not his real name