There are over forty people in secure facilities across Scotland – prisons and hospitals – currently studying Open University (OU) undergraduate modules.
In this short blog, an OU in Scotland graduate shares how studying with the OU whilst in prison gave him an opportunity to turn his life around.
Around 15 years ago I found myself being sent to prison for a serious offence, for which I pled guilty. I received a long-term prison service and was left with a lot of time to reflect on what had happened, why I was there and where I could go from there.
As you can imagine prison is a place where you have little to do, lots of free time and isolation, but not many options to fill it. I made a personal decision to try and turn this negative situation into something positive. I engaged with education in the prison Learning Centre and after undertaking some basic courses, I managed to enrol on an access course with The Open University. This led to me completing a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Social Sciences (Politics).
There were several challenges considering my circumstances. Limited access to the education department, no internet access and only an hour-long phone call a month with my tutor. As time passed, I developed means of coping with these difficulties. I felt myself growing more confident, not only academically, but also when interacting with others.
Studying gave me a sense of freedom and liberation which my surroundings had deliberately denied me. It allowed me to fill my time constructively and avoid the many pitfalls which surround you in prison.
When I started studying in prison there were only a handful of other students in the prison engaged with The Open University. But as time passed and I approached the end of my degree, more people had become interested, and I found people asking me how they could get involved with The Open University. I pointed them towards the prison Learning Centre for advice and explained the personal benefits of studying. By the time I was leaving prison at least 20 other men had started studying with The Open University at various levels.
As I moved through the prison system I continued my education journey, gaining an OU master’s degree. My OU undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications allowed me to make connections with colleagues at two well respected university institutions and enabled me to gain valuable intern experience, whilst on work placement from the prison. Many of these people, who I respect academically, have now become friends.
I have now left prison and am in full time employment, although I’m not working in academia, I regularly attend various workshops and I am part of several which prioritise social justice and groups support those in bad situations. I’m also now pursuing PhD funding.
All of this would not have been possible without the route and opportunities provided by The Open University. People in prison have no doubt made mistakes, however, there must be some opportunity for rehabilitation.
For me The Open University provided an opportunity to turn my life around, it gave me an understanding and insight into another world. It provided hope and goals to get me through a negative situation. I could do something productive and take control of my own destiny. It opened doors which would otherwise would not have opened. In fact, doors which I didn’t realise were there.
I would recommend studying with The Open University to anyone, in any situation, as much for the personal development as the academic achievement. I’m glad I choose and was able to study with The Open University and I cannot thank enough all of the OU tutors and staff whose patience and guidance made the education journey less precarious.
If you're thinking of studying with the OU my advice is do it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The majority of OU students in Scotland study for free with a part-time fee grant, which is for students in Scotland with a personal income of £25,000 or less. No qualifications are required for most OU modules.
There is more information out more about OU study and how we support our students, including our students in secure environments, on our Study webpage.