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“Education has changed my life”

Mark began his journey with the OU whilst serving a life-sentence in prison. Through his studies he discovered a passion for learning and since his release has enabled him to turn his life around. Now he uses his own experiences to help other prisoners learn. We spoke to Mark to discover more about how the OU set him back on the right path:

“I was at a loss as to how to keep myself occupied in prison. I gained work as a peer-mentor, working with the literacy tutor. She encouraged me in my creative writing and invited me to lead sessions in her class. When I shared some of my draft novel with her, she suggested I studied with The Open University and gave me a prospectus to look through. The prison’s Distance Learning Co-Ordinator arranged everything I needed to study towards a BA (Hons) English Literature and Creative Writing. I’m now half way through that course.

“For me this has been the most important work that I have done in custody, and has continued now that I am back in the community. It’s allowed me to find the real me, as well as teaching me more about my love of writing.”

Studying needs discipline

“Prior to studying with The Open University my education background was not great. I did poorly in my formal education, but gained several diploma qualifications through distance learning.

“I think that the distance learning route to education ought to be open to every prisoner.”

“It takes quite a lot of discipline, and more so in the custodial setting. The logistical challenges within the prison walls are varied- being able to discuss issues with your tutor, getting assignments physically posted to the OU. I had an education coordinator whilst in custody who supported me, getting me extra articles when I asked her; especially if there were online articles I wanted to read.

“The course textbooks have been well written and are presented in an easy-to-understand pattern. I still read through the material supplied with my level one modules simply to recapture some of what I learned earlier.

Managing motivation

“Keeping motivated in prison was ok for me. I didn’t like having wasted time, and being locked up during the evening was a bonus. I’m an early riser so used this time to read before going to work. We also had a distance learning support group who met two afternoons a week. We could use the computers then to type and print assignments, but we also used it to discuss issues relating to our studies.

“Keeping motivated outside of prison is harder, mainly due to work commitments. I find that there are so many things that I am involved with that I’m not keeping to my timetable. It is interesting that my assignment grades slipped slightly in my most recent module – which was the first module I studied outside of prison.

“In the community the online materials, activities and support structure is great, but it can be overwhelming for an ex-prisoner. My course WhatsApp and social media groups have helped here as they’re very encouraging in their support and I can participate in the OU Student Association’s meet-ups.

My future’s more positive now

“The OU has changed me as a person. I’ve discovered I actually enjoy learning and I’ve gained discipline through devoting my time to study.”

“Since starting the OU course more of my work is being published. I’ve written an Introduction to Creative Writing course that can be studied through the prison in-cell learning channel, Way2Learn, and I’ve gained employment with a prison education provider.  They’ve placed me in a position of responsibility, and I can see my role within the company growing.  My freelance work has also taken off and I have been invited to speak to a variety of groups about my life, imprisonment, studies and faith. I’ve recently gained a role at the OU as an independent adviser/consultant to the Arts and Social Sciences team. They are writing a new module aimed at prisoners and those that work within the prison community. My involvement will be to read papers and comment on the suitability of the teaching material for students in secure environments.

“My prospects have changed and been enhanced through this new development in my life, and it is one that I cherish daily. The future holds much more positive things now than it did previously and I do not believe that this would have happened had it not been for the Open University.”

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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