Fircroft College of Adult Education | Birmingham, West Midlands

Access to Higher Education Student Profiles

Mark Riley

Posted : 16th June 2015

“Before starting on the Access to Higher Education Diploma in Humanities course at Fircroft I’d spent most of the previous 8 years in prison. I’d had a difficult childhood. I was a ‘latchkey kid’ without any good role models in my life and plenty of bad ones, I started to drift down the wrong path. I was using drugs and alcohol from age 11 and left school with no qualifications.  I had a few casual jobs a few jobs but they never lasted long and I led a very chaotic lifestyle, I was essentially homeless but used to stay at friends houses or wherever I could.  I started using hard drugs and getting into more trouble. It was horrible, my life was spiralling out of control.

The tipping point came in 2012 when I tried to kill myself. I thought, “That’s it, I either die or I get help.” I entered a ‘therapeutic community at Channings Wood prison and I stopped using in January 2013. I left prison and moved into supported housing for people in recovery - there I heard about the Access course at Fircroft College. I’d already done a health and social care course whilst inside which gave me a taste for learning. I also had a close friend who’d come from a similar background to mine. He’d done the Access course and told me how life-changing it was. He was right. Starting the Access course at Fircroft in September 2014 changed everything. It gave me self-belief, confidence and a sense of self-worth I’d never had before. It opened my eyes. I want other people who’ve been in my situation to know that it is possible to change.

My friends and family had got sick of me saying ‘it’s going to be different this time’ over the years. But then a few weeks ago my mum told me she was proud of me – she hasn’t said that to me since I was a kid. This all feels like a really big deal and there’s no going back now.

It hasn’t been easy. One of the toughest things was being in and interacting with people in ‘normal’ surroundings. It was so abnormal to me, coming out of prison I felt institutionalised. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I remember getting my first essay handed back to me after not being in a classroom for 20 years. I got a distinction, it was amazing. Another highlight was getting a merit in Sociology, which I’d really struggled with. I’ve been offered a place at Lincoln Bishop Grosseteste University to do health and social care. I want to be a support worker and help people who’ve been in my situation. I’ve had so much support from other people, especially the tutors at Fircroft, It’s my turn to give something back.”

Mark won the Open College Network 2015 Access to HE Learner Award given to ‘extraordinary individuals who are undertaking or have had inspirational learning journeys helping them to transform their lives.’

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Mark Riley
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