A2 Basic 67 Folder Collection
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Each of those words conjures up a different picture.
None of them tell you exactly who someone is.
My name is Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski.
I'm a PhD candidate
and I'm a lecturer in criminology at The Open University.
I work with students in prisons.
I love what I do.
It feels deeply personal to me,
because I used to be a prisoner too.
All of these labels have been mine.
So growing up, life was tough.
My father died in a car crash when I was a teenager.
And that hit me really hard.
I didn't see the world as a meritocracy.
I had to grab what I could.
But being sent to prison for dealing drugs was a shock.
I was sentenced to 16 years.
For the first three months inside,
I didn't speak to anyone.
Eventually, I started working in the kitchens.
And as people got to know me,
I was eventually assessed for my educational potential
and encouraged after that assessment to enroll at the Open University.
But the most difficult barrier
was actually inside of me.
I'd left school with no qualifications. Nothing.
I was scared of my future
and I decided to try.
My day job working in the kitchens and on the servery
meant that I had to study at night.
So I had to study on the toilet, while my cellmate snored.
So when I finished my first module,
it gave me hope, and it gave me something I could focus on.
There was no going back now.
Other prisoners and guards kept asking me why I was wasting my time -
studying wouldn't matter with my criminal record.
I felt I was changing.
I discovered I loved learning. And that was enough to keep me going.
I served eight years of my 16-year sentence.
By the time I left prison, I had completed my first degree.
I had also completed two further degrees at Masters level.
So, after I was released, I got a job working with students in prisons -
not in spite of who I was, but because of it.
It's hard to describe how I felt
the first time I went back to prison as a lecturer,
and the governor came down, and shook my hand.
What I want people to know
is that I'm not different or special -
anybody can do this.
Almost half of all prisoners have left school
without achieving any formal qualification.
I know how that feels. And it had a massive impact on my confidence.
But that does not mean that you're not able to learn
Everyone has the potential and the power to change.
I've seen it. And I've lived it.
It was Winston Churchill who said:
“There is treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.”
What do we want from our prisons?
Is the primary goal of prison to punish,
or to help find a different path?
The policy isn't coherent, you see.
Research shows that education does reduce reoffending.
It allows former prisoners to make different choices.
So when I sit with prisoners, I say to them:
“I was in your shoes. But I am now released, on the outside.
I've got a good job. I've got a good life. I'm with my family.”
Had I met somebody like me when I was younger,
things might have been very different.
No-one believed in me. I didn't believe in myself either.
It's taken two decades to get here.
And this is only the beginning.
The word “prisoner” is just a label.
I found freedom within my own mind.
You need to remember that you have the capacity to learn.
You have the capacity to change your life.
There is treasure within each and every one of us.
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'I went from prisoner to PhD' | BBC Ideas

67 Folder Collection
Summer published on August 12, 2020
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