I struggled at school, right back to my earliest memories. My time in primary school was difficult and confusing, and I did not understand why. I just could not keep up or grasp an understanding of what was being taught in class.
In my last year of primary school, I was tested for dyslexia, which took a couple of days to complete. I was soon told that I was very high scoring and dyslexic, and that I would be assigned specialist support teacher along with more one to one learning.
I could not read the same books as my classmates, so I had my own very basic small books (Fuzzbuzz), and still really struggled to read at all. I felt, and I was, very out of place and never got anywhere at primary school.
My first day of high school set the tone for the rest of my school days. I missed my first day of high school due to a family holiday. So I started a week after my peers. My first class was history, with the whole class copying the writing off the rolling black board as it was then. The question came “has everyone done this?” “No sir.” “OK where have you got to? Come to the front and show me”. So I go up to his desk at the front of the entire class, and he says out loud “oh you’re sitting on your brains again”. This was the first time I had met him, and he humiliated me for what I did not know. I hope that it was just ignorance; however, that was not what I thought at the time. From then on the rest of my school days were a living hell, and yes I would go as far as to say I hated it. I constantly had issues with teachers and my fellow peers, because of my lack of educational prowess.
I was bullied because of my dyslexia and started to avoid school at all cost. By mutual agreement, I left school in my third year being told that I am not worth the paper anyway. At this point, I had the reading age of a 5 year old.
After I left school, I went into Youth Training Scheme’s (YTS) in catering, with no real educational abilities. My time on YTS did not go well due to my lack of education as well as other issues.
I fell into a life of substance abuse and crime, and did my first prison sentence at 17 years old. Prison was very different back then, no TVs, no anything apart from the library if you were lucky. On one of my very first visits to the prison library, I got out a book (IT by Stephen King) hardback a very big book. So back to my cell I went with book in hand determined to try and read it, needless to say I failed. I did not pick up another book for about 18 years; I just accepted all the things that were said to me at school “that I was thick and stupid”.
I came into prison on this sentence age 33 years old, and was forced into education again. First I did NCFE Level 1 award in creative craft using drawing and painting, followed by OCR Entry Level 3 ICT. I then moved from my local remand cat B prison to HMP Gartree. At Gartree I was assessed for literacy and numeracy, which came back that I was working at entry level 2. So I began my adventures down the rabbit hole of education yet again, however this time it felt very different but I was unsure as to why. At this point I engaged with the Shannon Trust for the first time doing Toe by Toe as it was back then, using the one red book named Toe by Toe as a mentee.
So there I am working hard to get my head around entry 2 work also working alongside a very patient Shannon Trust mentor. After a number of months, I started to notice something had happened since my time at school. A very real and natural phenomenon of our amazing brain, our brains just want to make sense of the world around us and solve puzzles that we face in our everyday lives. I could now read far better than ever before. Just think of it this way, you are travelling down the motorway and you see a sign for Manchester, you don’t read the whole word, it’s just the start, middle and end. The brain naturally fills in the rest and makes sense of it; you just have to let it.
Embracing my new found belief in my abilities, I really did throw myself even deeper down the rabbit hole. I worked hard on my education and re-did my high school years, all 5 of them. I got my level 2’s in literacy and numeracy, followed by my level 2 peer mentoring.
Soon after in 2015, I did my training to become a Shannon Trust mentor and very quickly got my first mentee. Since then I have been a championing the Shannon Trust all I can. I have lost count of the number of mentees I have mentored over the years.
Seeing people, who struggle with their reading just as I did, grow and become more confident with reading, is the best job satisfaction there is. The amount of people I come across that have had similar experiences as myself is staggering. Being bullied, told you are thick and not worth anything all your life makes people resistant to wanting to try to learn.
I have also gone on to work on a Level 5 Diploma in addiction counselling. I have also done a lot of work with Cambridge University (Learning Together), which is sadly no longer running. I did the introduction to criminology, and submitted my end of course essay. To have work double blind marked by Cambridge University and to be given a strong pass shows me just how far I have come. I was asked by Learning Together to be a mentor on the next year’s course, which was Cambridge and Oxford University’s working together.
When I hear of someone thinking of trying to help themselves, I always tell them my story. I find this helps potential learners feel like they’re not the only ones that really struggle, along with having someone in their corner that really knows how they feel such as the frustrations and difficulties. This puts people at ease and gives learners self-belief along with faith and trust in me as a mentor, which is important.
I enjoy working for the Shannon Trust and giving back by continuing the good work of such an amazing charity, and I will continue to do all I can to support them with the good work, as I would not be where I am today if not for the Shannon Trust.
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