The prison book club that teaches inmates how to read

 

Once a week, a small group of inmates gathers in the day centre room at London’s Pentonville Prison to read aloud together. Some do so falteringly, others with more confidence – but all have accepted a challenge to read six books in a year, or before they leave prison.

It might not seem of much consequence, but more and more prison service professionals are beginning to believe that what happens in this room could be vital to the inmates’ chances of securing a job – and not re-offending – when they return to civilian life.

Maurice, aged 46, who is on remand awaiting trial, describes the reading sessions as “therapeutic”. “It’s an escape from things and takes you out of yourself,” he said. “You get absorbed in a book. I felt isolated in my cell, and mental health issues can kick in. I was encouraged to come to the day centre as a distraction.”

The prison reading scheme is part of the Quick Reads project, which has signed up authors including Andy McNab, Minette Walters and Kathy Lette to pen simple short stories to help adults with literacy problems learn to read.

“Forty-eight per cent of people in prison have low literacy levels,” said Cathy Rentzenbrink, director of Quick Reads. “The likelihood of reoffending is so vastly reduced if they have skills like reading when they leave prison.”

At Pentonville, 459 inmates were signed up to the scheme this year – the prison holds 1,200 – and 159 have read their six books to date.

Andy McNab, the novelist and former SAS operative, has visited the prison to talk to the inmates, recalling how when he joined the army he was told: “You’re not thick – you’re just not really educated.” McNab is the most popular author in the men’s prison – one book he has written for Quick Reads tells of his own experience as an illiterate soldier learning to read when he joined up.

Ms Rentzenbrink described his visit as “the most profoundly moving experience from an emotional point of view that I’ve ever been involved in.”

“It was inspirational,” she said. “He was talking to a roomful of prisoners and he told them: ‘Everyone f***s up once – it’s what you do next that really counts’.”

In their reviews of the books, McNab is a firm favourite among inmates. “I love any book by Andy McNab, as from start to finish you just can’t put the book down. The plot in this book was great right until the end,” one wrote.

Simeon, 25, who is in the second year of a six-year sentence for a drugs-related offence, worked as a mentor in a youth club before starting his sentence, and now helps other inmates learn to read.

“I was mentoring three people at one stage,” he said. “One was in the same case as me. I don’t think he’d have had the confidence to do it by himself.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test