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Celebrating the achievement of an outstanding learner

Festival of learning

The Festival of Learning, which took place in June, is the biggest national celebration of lifelong learning in England. Each year, ahead of the Festival, an awards ceremony is hosted (The Inspire Awards) to celebrate the achievements of outstanding learners who’ve shown exceptional passion, commitment and drive for learning, often in the face of difficult circumstances.

This year, the ‘Overall Learner of the Year Award’ and the ‘Into Work’ category was won by James Harris. What’s so outstanding about James is that he spent half of his adult life in prison after he was sentenced to 76 months in prison for drug offences.

Talking about his experiences after he received his award, James explained how he had first been offered cocaine at a party when he was 19. Before long, his drug use had escalated until it eventually reached the point where he couldn’t face going to work before he’d snorted a line of coke. At the age of 23, James was dealing drugs to pay for his habit and this ultimately led to his prison sentence.

Like many people, prison proved to be the turning point for James and, instead of hitting rock bottom, he decided to use his time behind bars positively. Relationships with his family had broken down and James knew that he had to turn his life around. He dedicated his time to learning new skills and acquiring more knowledge. He gained more than 30 qualifications ranging from psychology to personal training as well as mentoring around 30 other prisoners to achieve basic literacy skills.

Having left prison, James now combines studying for an Open University degree whilst working night shifts. In an interview given to Wales Online James said:

I wanted to use my own personal experiences combined with my studies to help others battling drug addiction.

I’ve spent half of my adult life in prison but rather than focus on the negatives, I decided to take a step back and evaluate my life choices.

I’d love to work in a drug rehabilitation unit as a therapist and I know to achieve that I’ve got to work hard’

Read the whole article about James at here or watch an video interview with James.


Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on universities, colleges and education for people with convictions on our information site.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to education and training from people with convictions on our online forum.

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