Canning Town refugee and star graduate says prison gave him a ‘reality check’

Jonathan Lufolo

Jonathan Lufolo - Credit: Archant

Refugee Jonathan Lofulo has spent time as a footballer and prison inmate but now he is graduating with a first class degree.

The 28-year-old University of East London student has struggled with a tough past, but is set to receive his degree in education studies at a graduation ceremony at the O2 Arena this evening (Weds).

Jonathan, of Canning Town, wants to continue studying at post-graduate level and one day hopes to help the Democratic Republic of Congo establish a system of free education.

“This degree demonstrates to me that I’m capable of achieving whatever I want to achieve,” he said.

“I have truly fallen in love with knowledge, and I’m grateful to UEL for giving me this opportunity.”

But it’s been a long journey for the man who fled to the UK at the age of 12 alongside his older brother after their house in Matete was raided.

Jonathan and his brother – who was also his sole guardian – eventually settled in the borough, although it wasn’t easy. He was bullied at school for being different and often wished he could return to the country of his birth.

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He did find some luck when he was scouted by Arsenal’s academy, while playing football for a team at Rokeby School, Canning Town.

After Arsenal released him, he was then scouted by West Ham. They too let him go, and Jonathan found himself spending more time with friends who “weren’t exactly law-abiding”.

“I thought I’d live my life as a so-called gangster,” he said.

The bad choices led to him serving one year of a three-year prison sentence for burglary.

Jonathan said: “Do I regret it? I do. I immensely regret it, but I embrace it at the same time because it has helped me become the person I am today.

“Going to prison was like a reality check. I thought to myself, I want to turn my life around. How am I going to turn my life around? And I thought to myself, I could do further education.”

After leaving prison, Jonathan was at first turned down by UEL because he lacked basic qualifications.

He then went on to complete all the requirements needed to get into university – and has now passed his course with flying colours.