Day One: Leaving Calais

Riding away from Calais, after weeks of deliberation, of not knowing if I would, could or should depart I felt ready. I am proud of how I have helped, in awe of those I have met. My soul a little broken from those I have met who are refugees, the hopelessness of their situation of the situation we all find ourselves living in where there are millions of displaced people with nowhere to be. No right answer. Now is time for me to go a little. I don’t feel guilty walking away right now, I have that privilege, I am free and I value it. For now, I am less useful than I have been, I have more to learn. I have more to see. I also want to ride. I can, I will and I will be stronger for it, more informed and better to help again before too long. The privilege that is freedom.

 

 

The first ride is a familiar one, away from the caravan park that I have called home for 5 months, living with fellow volunteers, next to a beach on the flat plains north of Calais. It is a beautiful day to leave on. Not because of fate, because I waited for the sun to come out before I left. With a steady head wind, I rode the familiar route to Gravelines with a friend from time in Calais, one who had helped give me the nudge I’d needed to go out and follow my dream to ride the world. A good egg, one of many I’d met in Calais.  A final farewell. On along to Borbourg I stopped to take some time and reflect and to look at the signed high viz jacket given to me by the volunteers, friends I had left behind. People who I would never otherwise have come across but who have given a richness and diversity to my social network. People who I have learnt a great deal from through our similarities and our differences. Amazing people who give up so much to help, each for their own reasons but mainly because in their minds it is the right thing to do.

 

Bourborg is an attractive town, simple, functional, non-commercial, cobbly. It  was hosting a weekday market, selling clothes, veg, fruit, shoes, meat.  The necessities, not the luxuries often associated with markets at home in the UK, The South. The scenes here resonate with an article I’d recently read, produced by the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39284234. Le Penn posters are dominant in these parts. I can understand why.

 

Riding from Bourbourg to Lille is one I have done before, I love it. It meanders through flat French countryside, for the most part the roads are empty. Suddenly, you find yourself on a switch back, turning to overlook the French countryside below you. A few turns latera and you enter Cassels. A beautiful, cobbled town, wide streets a beautiful cathedral, wonderful views. All the better for the unexpectedness of its existence. I have stopped here before, I didn’t this time. There are plenty of coffee shops for those wishing to sit and watch the town pass by. Leaving Cassels is downhill on bobbly cobbles.  I had to stop to tape my portable cooker to my front pannier.

 

Turning off towards Steenvorde the road becomes smooth. Smooth roads lined by green and yellow fields take you to and across the border to Belgium, bike paths and car free roads, short sharp climbs and pleasant towns line the path.

 

It was fitting to ride out through Steenvorde, past signs to Norrenfont, both of which host small refugee populations of mainly Eritrean refugees which are supported by our warehouse in Calais in collaboration with other local organisations. Norrenfont was one of the camps who we provided bikes to following the #WrenchesforRefugees campaign. I had visited it the day before I left, taking a weekly supply of wood provided by Calais Woodyard and food provided by RCK.

 

After passing through Lille and failing to find a sheltered, non-exposed bivvy spot l continued to the next town, Tournai where there was a youth hostel with a bed for me, and a banquet hall for Galapagos, Darwin.  img_20161205_085825

Strava route

While I have left Calais, the need for volunteers and donations at this time has not.

If you are interested to learn how you can support the ongoing work the main organisations I have been working with are Help Refugees / L’Auberge , L’Auberge des MigrantsRefugee Community Kitchen, and Utopia 56,  

They would all very much value your help. Particularly at this time, RCK and Utopia 56  who are very much on the front line in providing support & food to those without homes on the streets of Calais.

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Prisoners’ Education Trust: What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ Education Trust 

 What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ education trust (PET) is a charity I am supporting and hope to raise awareness of and funds for through my bicycling adventures. This is an introduction to the work they do and a reflection of my thoughts. Views are my own.

The What

Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) is a charity that believes education has the power to enrich, change and develop people throughout their lives. Offering prisoners access to education improves their self-esteem and enables them to choose a more constructive way of life making it less likely they will reoffend.   It is a charity that I am aware of due to the personal contribution of my Dad, who was one of the original trustees; his involvement stemming from being an in English teacher in prisons in the 1980’s. It is a charity that helps individuals, their families and communities. It is also a charity whose aims have far reaching implications for our society.

The Why

The number of people in prison is rising at a staggering rate, 92% from 1993 to 2015, making Britain host to the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 147 people per 100,0001.  Despite the growing prison population, there is a declining number of staff employed in public prisons. There has been an increase in prison deaths, violence, sexual abuse, fires and incidents requiring the emergency services.  Yet, there remains a staggering high rate of re-offending by those released from prison; 46% of people reconvicted within one year1. From the outside looking in, it seems like a broken system.

The Who

It is very easy to forget about those who we don’t come into contact with in our lives, easier still when the group of people are prisoners.  Many of us have been the victim of petty crime. Some of us have encountered more serious offences that may have had significant repercussions for us, our friends, and loved ones.  The goal of PET isn’t to excuse prisoners but to use education as a tool to prevent reoffending. It helps prisoners to learn and better themselves with a view to becoming positive contributors to society. It provides the opportunity to offer a second chance in life, often to people had a pretty rotten first chance to begin with.

 Many prisoners are victims of abuse as children, or growing up in care.

  • 1% of Children in England are in care, yet this group make up over half of children in secure training centres and 38% of children in young offenders institutions1.
  • 53 % of women and 27% of men prisoners report abuse as child1.

As a group, prisoners in Britain are also likely to have a limited education compared to the general population. A considerable amount of research associating education with crime rates with causal associations between the two dating back to the 1970’s2. It is reported that 42% of prisoners had been expelled or permanently excluded from school while 51% of people entering prisons were assessed as having the literacy skills expected of an 11 year old1.  People with no qualifications are four times more likely to be in prison than those with some qualifications3.

PET provides a number of case studies on their website, providing an insight into some of the people this trust has helped. I was particularly touched by the stories of Frank4, Ben5 and Karen6.

Looking Ahead

While a high proportion of people in our prisons may have been deprived of, or neglected to utilise, the opportunity to learn earlier in life, learning and education are things that can be revisited. Going back to the Brownlee report prisoners who had attended vocational training in prison are more likely to secure employment after release. Further, prisoners who were funded to study by PET were less likely to reoffend7. Thus, by providing education and training to prisoners, PET hopes to aid the rehabilitative process for prisoners, helping them to return with a positive influence to their society.

My ponderings

I attended school, participated in extra-curricular activities, and went to University.  For me, it was an easy journey, well metaphorically speaking. Literally, I sometimes made it difficult for myself, often racing the school bus on the way back from my paper round, throwing my bike and paper bag over the garden fence and running to make the bus stop on time. On those days that I did miss the bus my mum would drop me off at another bus stop on her way to work, normally sacrificing her breakfast in the process;  sorry mum. That was my education though, it was available, all of my friends went to school and when I slipped up, or started to loose motivation, my parents were there to prop me up and to ensure I didn’t fall through the gaps.  On top of that, I was lucky to go to good, safe schools, with above average results, access to sports facilities and use of Bunsen burners.

Would it have been so easy without that family support? Probably not.

Over the past months, since deciding I would like to fundraise for PET, I have come to better understand the work they do and how they go about it. I have also thought more about why it is important and had the opportunity to meet some individuals who had personally benefited from PET and hear their stories.  Listening to these conversations and reading case stories I have been struck by those accounts where, in line with what you would expect from a Hollywood tear jerker, the provision of education has lead directly or indirectly to a transformation of individuals committed to reform, a crime free life after prison to the benefit of themselves, friends and family.

 I have also found myself pondering the other edge of the sword of in relation to my own life, could it have been me? Could I have found myself in a position where through a moment of stupidity, lack of concentration, distraction or perhaps as a consequence of alcohol I found myself the cause of a crime and on the wrong side of the law? How would I cope?

Thank you for reading, please feel free to share.

Fundraising Page for PET

Some References/Further Reading

  1. Prison Reform Trust Bromley Briefing Summer 2016
  2. Ehrlich, I. (1975), ‘On the relation between education and crime’, Chapter 12, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
  3. Stephen Machin & Olivier Marie & Suncica Vujic, 2010.”The Crime Reducing Effect of Education,”CEP Discussion Papers dp0979, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  4. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/frank-harris-ive-always-been-a-taker-but-now-im-a-giver-
  5. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/-bens-story-
  6. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/from-prisoner-to-case-worker-karens-story
  7. Ministry of Justice. (2013) Justice Data Lab Re‐offending Analysis: Prisoners Education Trust Open University Grants, London, UK. Retrieved February, 23, 2016, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270089 /open-university-report.pdf