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Meet Dr. Stephen. He went from prisoner to Ph.D. and now gives lectures to students like him.

Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski was sentenced to 16 years in prison for drug dealing. Today, he's a certified guest lecturer.

Meet Dr. Stephen. He went from prisoner to Ph.D. and now gives lectures to students like him.
Image Source: The Open University

At a young age, Dr. Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski from the United Kingdom was handed a prison sentence of 16 years for dealing drugs. He was shocked. Life had not dealt him the best hand and he was making do with the resources he had. For the first three months in prison, he stuck to himself and did not talk to anyone. After that period of time, however, he began working in the prison kitchen and people started getting to know him. Eventually, he was assessed for his educational potential and encouraged, following that assessment, to enroll in The Open University, the leading university for flexible, innovative teaching and world-leading research in the UK.



In an interview with BBC News, Dr. Akpabio-Klementowski shared that his father had passed away in a car crash when he was just a teenager. After that traumatic incident, he was sentenced to prison for 16 years on charges of drug dealing. "[My dad's death] hit me really hard," he explained. "I didn’t see the world as a meritocracy. I had to grab what I could... But being sent to prison for dealing drugs was a shock." After he was encouraged to enroll in The Open University, he realized something about himself: "But the most difficult barrier was actually inside of me. I’d left school with no qualifications. Nothing. I was scared of my future and I decided to try."



When he finally enrolled, studying for his classes was no cakewalk. He would have to work in the kitchens during the day and only found time to study at night. He said, "My day job working in the kitchens and on the servery meant that I had to study at night. So I had to study on the toilet, while my cellmate snored." When he finally finished his first module, it was a huge achievement. "It gave me hope, and it gave me something I could focus on," he stated. "There was no going back now. Other prisoners and guards kept asking me why I was wasting my time. Studying wouldn’t matter with my criminal record. I felt I was changing. I discovered I loved learning. And that was enough to keep me going. I served eight years of my 16-year sentence. By the time I left prison, I had completed my first degree. I had also completed two further degrees at the Masters level."



When he got out of prison, he decided to use his experience to motivate others like him. Dr. Akpabio-Klementowski shared, "After I was released, I got a job working with students in prisons, not in spite of who I was, but because of it. It’s hard to describe how I felt the first time I went back to prison as a lecturer, and the governor came down, and shook my hand." Now, he has one message for those in his shoes: "What I want people to know is that I’m not different or special, anybody can do this. Almost half of all prisoners have left school without achieving any formal qualification. I know how that feels. And it had a massive impact on my confidence. But that does not mean that you’re not able to learn. Everyone has the potential and the power to change. I’ve seen it. And I’ve lived it... The word 'prisoner' is just a label. I found freedom within my own mind. You need to remember that you have the capacity to learn. You have the capacity to change your life. There is treasure within each and every one of us." Our prison systems are broken and, as the former prisoner affirmed, the primary goal of prison is not to punish, but to help folks find a "different path" so they can make different choices. While our governments figure out the policy of imprisonment, Dr. Akpabio-Klementowski's story shows us that there is hope yet.



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