DM Thomas Foundation for Young People funds projects that offer support to some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in society, including young people who are, or have been, in prison. This includes a grant to Prisoners Education Trust (PET) of £10,000 to provide young people in prisons or Young Offender Institutions with distance learning courses and advice.
At primary school Junior Smart was told he would fail. Years later he found himself in prison facing a 10 year sentence after getting involved in a south London gang. But during his sentence he decided to focus on education, with support from prison staff and the Foundation’s charity partner PET which he says was ‘central to his success in prison’ and gave him an opportunity to change his life. Now he helps hundreds of young people across London while he studies for a Master’s degree.
Junior was supported by PET to study an Open University degree in the arts. This helped prepare him for study in the community after he was released from prison and in 2013 he was awarded a 1st class BA hons degree in Youth Work.
Seven years ago he also joined the charity St Giles Trust and set up a gangs-intervention project, using his experience to help young people avoid prison. Studying his degree at the same time helped him expand the project, apply for more funding and employ other ex-prisoners to reach more communities.
Junior said “I would never have attempted uni without the previous support from PET whilst I was in custody. I’m so grateful to Prisoners’ Education Trust and other organisations which supported me. When I was in custody I was moved around a lot and it was like a lottery where I ended up and what courses were available. But I was lucky to have time with a tutor who believed in me and I was able to do a degree and get employment upon release,” he says.
Junior says his academic and work accomplishments have had a really positive impact on his family. After his sisters and godchildren went through the trauma of having a loved one in prison, they now look up to him, are inspired by his hardworking attitude and are extremely proud of his achievements.
“When I got my 1st I couldn’t stop smiling for a week. No one can take my degree away from me, to get it I had to work hard but I never had to threaten anyone – it is a powerful feeling” he says.
Junior went to prison as a gang member, now he is preparing to go into his second year Master’s degree in Applied Criminology and Youth Justice at Middlesex University. In July 2014 Junior won an Adult Learners’ Week award.
Find out how DMTFYP also supports young people into employment opportunities through the programme Galvin’s Chance.