How did the idea come to you?
The DWRM model is based off my own lived experience. My experience of the criminal justice system, and my own experience of studying and reaching my goals and aspirations, in spite of being in prison not because of being in prison.
When I went to prison, I had no education, as I had left school at 13 and never returned. So, I started my education journey when I started my prison sentence. I went from zero education
to starting my PHD, just before I was released…with undergraduate degrees, and a master’s degree.
My PHD is examining multiple adverse childhood experiences and the way in which they inhibit or enable long serving prisoners using higher education as a form of self-change.
The ongoing barrier I faced during my education journey was access to study, to get onto the courses, to start a degree; to meet all the criteria, that realistically nobody could meet.
I am who I am, I am resilient and dogged in my approach, and when I made the decision that I was going to do something, something positive that would effectively shape the rest of my life, I was not going to be told that it wasn’t possible.
It made no sense to me that prisons were supposedly focussed on rehabilitation, yet the route I wanted to take to ‘rehabilitate’ myself, was effectively closed off. So, I forged a path through the ‘no’s,’ through the barriers and the obstacles in my way, to achieve my goals and I was extremely proud to leave prison with the education I did, with the opportunities that this gave me.
Whilst in prison, I saw many of my peers fall along the wayside, as they could not maintain their study goals, with all the obstacles to overcome, just to be able to start to study. It was something I needed to make easier, as I understood both from personal experience and from the experience of my peers around me, the benefits of the self-change that a higher education programme could provide.
I wanted to make it easier and remove the obstacles, so we launched DWRM.
How did you utilise your entrepreneurial talent?
Previous to setting up DWRM, I did not have a job, in fact I have never had a job. So, coming into this was brand new for me, and I I do not think I could have picked two more complex and challenging institutions to work with – Universities and Prisons. Two years in, we must have done something right, as we are now growing in every direction.
The first thing you feel as an individual leaving prison is that you want to run as far away from all things prison as you can, to leave it all behind. But I wanted to help those I had left behind in prison, those coming after me who would face the difficulties in learning that I had faced. I felt confident that I could start a business, but creating a business where I would have to work with prisons and universities was a difficult decision to make, but it was one I felt compelled to make.
I used my determination and my ability to see the big picture. I understood the landscape I would be navigating and what that landscape looked like. We have used determination to help to create a culture of acceptance within the University landscape, and I now want to expand this further into that of the wider society.
What was a major obstacle and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest obstacles was understanding the process of, and how to apply for, grants. I had never done anything like it before, I had no experience or history to call on, and this has been a major obstacle. I needed to understand who I am now, how I would be perceived, and everything that comes with that. So, as a business, we spent time to learn and understand the landscape we would be navigating, to focus on what people need, and what people are looking for.
Conversion rates run at between one to four successful grant applications, out of every ten made. We currently have a success rate of seven to eight out of ten, because of the groundwork we undertook and still undertake, ahead of every grant application we make.
Another major obstacle I have faced is that of being taken seriously, by the people that matter, The MOJ, HMPPS, and Prison Governors. I dealt with this challenge head on, through conversations, and by offering test pilots of our offering to provide proof of concept.
We provided a test first pilot for both prisons and universities, as we were so confident in our offering. They could see first-hand that it works, and they bought in.
Today, universities are knocking on our door to work with us!
Finally – Can you provide a quote to inspire others?
“Make sure of your motivations. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Make sure that you are doing something that you love and that you are passionate about, as only then will you truly succeed.”