Matthew Popo

Criminology - BA (Hons)

I took a gap year after college as I decided that I needed time to focus on what was important and in what direction I wanted to take my life; as unfortunate as it was that my friend had gone to prison, I quickly realised that it could have easily been me or any one of my peers. I found myself a full-time job and began to search and strive towards a life of fulfilment.

While I knew that I wanted to study I was still unsure about what course I wanted to undertake. It wasn’t until I looked back on my own life and observed the life of my peers that I realised the most substantial problem within young people within the inner city was crime. I chose to enter university and study Criminology, to further study recognised theories into why young people fell into certain groups and how they can move away from crime and deviant lifestyles through education and getting the right help and advice.

My initial plan when starting university was to simply arrive at my lectures and seminars, get my education and then leave; at no point was I interested in socialising or take part in any other activities. However, as my education progressed, university also taught me lessons outside of the lecture theatre – I began to meet new people, explore new cultures and simply allow myself to learn from those I would have most likely never has spoken to away from university.

Within my university experience I have also been given some priceless opportunities, including a work placement with the Young Offenders Service where my role was to work on what’s known as “Youth Offender Panel Work”. This programme allows young offenders to sit and talk about their crimes with criminal justice workers and even the victims of the crimes they have committed. This is a chance for young offenders to confront and take responsibility for their actions, apologise for their behaviour and suggest why they committed their crime, which allows them to avoid simply being sent to prison. This was the first year that the University had run the scheme and I believe it to be a brilliant addition to the course.

I also took part in a life-changing outing to HMP Grendon as part of a student/prisoner debate. This experience was especially memorable for me as, firstly I took part in the debate itself and secondly, as a result of my performance, I was then recruited to take part in a prison management scheme by the General Manager of the National Offender Management Service for the South East/West of England. The management schemes offered will officially train me to one day become a prison governor. Becoming a prison governor wasn’t something I had previously considered as I am not the strongest advocate of how the Prison Service is run at present, with too much emphasis on incarceration and not enough on rehabilitation, but I realised that the best way to change the system was from the inside, putting ideas into practice which, if successful, could then be used in other prisons.

My active educational life has led to me being positively active in my social life. I stand strong in the belief of giving back to the community, young people in particular, as they will be the adults of tomorrow. I have recently begun coaching an under-12s football team with a local charity club named Continental Stars. Continental Stars focuses on providing young males and females from the ages of 10 and upwards, with not only the skills to make them better footballers, but also life skills, while providing positive role models through the use of sport.

I have also been working with young people in schools for the past seven months using seminars/workshops I created that promote confidence, self esteem and purpose.

I came to university as a young male seeking further education and I am leaving as a young man that has not only succeeded and completed his degree but also a young man that now has the world at his feet. I will use my degree to help people, young people in particular and simply be an example to many that with hard work and determination all things are possible. I will continually encourage young people to gain an education, not just for the qualification but also for the life lessons that it will offer you along the way.