Prisoner's confidence grows on practical course

PET learner Anthony writes about how a practical course helped him:

"I came to prison with very few formal qualifications. Like many others in prison I had negative experiences of school which left me feeling that formal study was not for me and I always thought vocational training would be much better suited to my interests and learning style. When I first came to prison, I signed up for education classes, mainly to get more time out of my cell and distract me from the stresses of prison life.

I took some basic qualifications in subjects I already knew about, but really wanted to do something that would challenge me and give me skills and a chance of employment on release.

After arriving at a category C prison, I had an appointment with a careers advisor to discuss what I intended to do in prison and upon my release. I was told the prison was starting a Light Vehicle Body Repair Course, which would involve learning to repair and re-paint cars that had accident damage. I had never tried anything like this before, but it sounded useful and challenging, so I applied and was lucky enough to receive a place on the six month long course.

Supportive teaching

The first unit involved health and safety training, which required a fair amount of paperwork. I started to wonder if the course was really for me, but stuck with it and before long I started to learn about the various tools and equipment. Having never used most of them, I sometimes felt unsure or lacked confidence. However, the instructor always found time to explain things fully and demonstrate until I understood which was already completely different from my previous experiences of learning. 

As the course progressed, my confidence and competence increased. Every day I was learning new things and felt I was making progress. The instructor was very qualified and experienced, and tried as much as possible to run the workshop as an outside body shop would.

This created an environment where it was easy to forget I was in prison, and time really flew past. I found myself disappointed when Friday came and spent the weekend looking forward to Monday when I could get back and learn more.

Wider skills development

The physical skills I learned were invaluable: welding, metal fabrication, applying and shaping various repair materials, removing and refitting components, masking and spray painting. However, the course gave me so much more than these. It improved my patience, focus, determination, problem solving and reasoning skills, among many other things. It allowed me to be creative and technical at the same time and to follow projects through from start to finish. This course proved to me that all of my effort was worthwhile.

After completing the course, I received two separate diplomas, one for repair work and the other for refinishing (spray painting), accredited by the Institute of the Motor Industry. I was asked by the instructor to stay on as an ‘orderly’ to help with administrative tasks and teaching other prisoners. This allowed me to have more practice spray painting and I now regularly teach this to others. This gives me the satisfaction of seeing other people develop their skills with my help.

Self-employment

After my release, I intend to start my own business and if possible, train other ex-offenders. This course has given me the skills to do this, along with the Business Management course I completed through the Open University (funded by PET). This has increased my sense of self-worth and confidence in myself immeasurably I will now be able to overcome many of the barriers I may face in the future.