"Learning how to learn" at 41: A letter from 'Lee'

Dear Sir,

I am writing to thank you all at PET for the excellent opportunities you have afforded me over the last few years.

I am a life-sentenced prisoner and I have served 12 years in prison. During that time I have dedicated my sentence to learning and I have been able to improve my knowledge enormously through the many distance learning courses I have been able to do, thanks to your help.

I came to prison in 2005 having committed serious violent crimes. I was 40 years old, a drug user with no insight into my offending, no expectations about my future and without any qualifications at all. I had no verifiable skills, low self-esteem and I used violence to make myself feel better.

For a while I carried on my anti-social behaviour in prison. Prison lends itself to bad behaviour and it would have been easy to carry on in the same vein, but I also knew that I needed help and if I ever wanted to get out of prison I needed to change.

After around a year in prison, I decided that life couldn’t just be about drugs so I looked around for something else to replace it. I found education and at 41 years old I began learning how to learn.

I started with English and Maths at Level 1 and I remember protesting that the questions made no sense – they were stupid questions! Not until some time later did I realise that it wasn’t the question made no sense, it was that it made no sense to me. It wasn’t the question that was stupid; the problem was that I didn’t understand the question. This new revelation was the first step towards taking responsibility for my own behaviour and to start to learn to trust, as I had to trust the question and answer it accordingly. These were things that I hadn’t been able to confront before and they are life lessons that benefit me in so many other ways outside my education.

Help more people like Lee

 

As I moved into distance learning I learnt to compare and contrast. Until that time there was only one opinion and that was mine! It was another realisation that there can be more than one opinion and they can both be right. Now I don’t have to make people wrong so I can be right. I recognise that mine is only one opinion and that it can be challenged. I still assert them strongly, but it’s only an opinion; I can take on others’ opinions and I can often accept theirs’ as better than mine.

I started a degree in 2007 and over the ensuing years I learnt many similar lessons. My degree was in international studies and part of the course was about poverty and development. I learnt, contrary to my earlier beliefs, that we don’t all have the same opportunities. I learnt to take a different perspective, and having looked at people in the developing world and their levels of poverty I learnt to have empathy.

Trust, selfish opinions, a lack of empathy, low self-efficacy and especially low self-esteem were the issues that brought me to prison. Thanks to the opportunities that you have provided I have been able to overcome or at least find ways to manage all of these issues.

After around a year in prison, I decided that life couldn’t just be about drugs so I looked around for something else to replace it. I found education and at 41 years old I began learning how to learn.

I have recently been granted open conditions and it’s great to eventually see an end to this part of my life. I don’t think I’ll ever stop studying and I’m certain that I’ll never stop learning. I’m getting out with a degree and many other qualifications that will put me in good stead for my release. I can speak Spanish, which I couldn’t do before I came to prison, and I am a qualified Management Accountant.

I would very much like to tell you that I’m leaving prison as a new man, a man who knows better, a man who recognises his own issues and his weaknesses and has good strategies in place to manage them. I am as dedicated to living a peaceful, decent and crime-free life as I was to starting my education all those years ago. Thank you for helping me to be a better man. I don’t know what my life would have been without education – probably a life of drugs and continuing crime.

Thank you very much indeed to you all.

Lee

BSc (Hons)