I had just been sent back to prison for the second time. I was 18 years old and didn't much care about anything -- nobody seemed to care about me all that much either. Because of my age, I was signed up for educational classes in English and science, which I avoided for as long as possible. Eventually, of course, the prison authorities caught up with me and I found myself heading for the classroom, remembering all that I hated about my 'real' school and ready to make life difficult for everyone, not least of all my teachers. As I got to the door, I found a young man in a seat chatting to the students. I tried to sneak past unnoticed, but he took my hand and shook it, saying "Hi there, nice to meet you -- come on in." I had met Mr. M_______.
From that moment on, everything changed. Classes were fun and I started to enjoy reading and writing in a way I hadn't thought possible. The lessons were never the same twice: one day, we'd be baking cakes as an exercise in instructive writing, the next we'd be watching a 'fireworks display' in a test tube. All of that was important. But, more than that, this teacher made me feel like a person again. He spoke to me like an equal and encouraged me to stand up for my thoughts and opinions using my brain, and not (as before) my fists. He was never too busy to talk about what was bothering me and he was always ready to back up his support with actions: helping us organize a petition against restricted recreational hours amongst much else.
I came out of my sentence with 4 good qualifications, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach. That was 3 years ago, and I'm just about to qualify this month. My family can't believe the transformation I've gone through, and neither can I. Last week, my mother and I went to say 'thank you' to this man who had turned our lives around. He told me to be proud, because I had done it myself. That may be true, but I'll never forget how much I owe to this inspirational teacher.