I Am More Than My Survival By Jamal Khan

Maya Angelou once said that “My mission in life is not merely to survive. But to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.”

Now the reason why this quote resonates is because; those who remained in my life to this day, whose support was consistent – were never satisfied with me just being here. Surviving wasn’t enough. To see me thrive is everything they worked for. And to this day, I still believe; you that the more I heal, the more I’m able to achieve.

When reflect on my journey, I realise that my growth did not come from employment on mainstream education. That in order to progress and thrive – first, I had to heal. Because how can I focus on anything outside of me, if I wasn’t right within myself?

This understanding became even more evident when at the age of fifteen, I was given a five year prison sentence. Isolation forced me to confront vivid images of my past, as if I was living it all over again. But I wasn’t taught a healthy way in which I could manage these flashbacks and overwhelming thoughts.

I felt the guilt of knowing that my mother was diagnosed with cancer; and that me being in prison contributed to the stress she felt. I felt like a failure. Not just because of the pain I caused. But also because the current situation I was in, clearly reflected everything I was told by my teachers in school. That I would end up in prison. That because I struggle to understand what they are teaching, I am stupid. In prison, I internalised and believed everything they told me. At the age of fifteen, I felt like my life was over.

I grew up in severe levels of poverty, with my entire family being homeless for months. I was taken into care. I had witnessed a lot of violence in my community; to a point where I saw a childhood friend shot dead in front of me. I was traumatised and no one ever asked my what happened or what did I experience. I was excluded from school and I didn’t receive any GCSES. I felt like I had nothing to live for.

These thoughts soon became too much to handle and I attempted to commit suicide in prison, I was placed on constant watch by the prison staff. Prison did not improve my mental health. It did not rehabilitate me. It simply exposed me to more fear, paranoia and violence. The painful memories of which, I still carry with me today.

At that point in my life, I realised that; understanding yourself is the most important education. What helped me to do this, to process my past in a way that I can control it, instead of it controlling me; was writing. It became my form of therapy. A way of making sense of everything I went through. To put it all in perspective & be comfortable in verbalising my experiences.

What began as journaling, developed into poems and short stories. I saw the importance in telling your own story & the transformative power that writing brings. In its ability to heal, enable self reflection, to express what is sometimes so hard to say & to facilitate some of the most powerful activism this world has ever seen. From the story of The Freedom Writers to Stanley Tookie Williams, I was inspired to give my pain a purpose too.

Since being released from prison, I’ve been working with other young people to empower them with the same therapeutic power that I found in writing. Especially those young people who I share similar experiences with, but have been excluded from accessing vital support. Such as those in care, pupil referral units and youth offending services.

Writing has taken me to places I never would’ve imagined myself being when I first began to write about my life in a prison cell. From performing my poems in places such as the Houses Of Parliament & The Shard, to meeting people like Prince Harry and to winning the Waterstones Emerging Young Writers Award. It has been a journey and I’m grateful for everyone who has helped me along the way.

Through telling my story, I began my process of healing. But the most important lesson I learnt is that; when you tell your own story, you contribute to the healing of all those who have dealt with the same struggles. You empower them with the ability to take ownership of their experiences and speak about them confidently. To be hopeful and understand that a scar is never the end of a story. A scar is a story to tell.