The prison book club that teaches inmates how to read
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Friday 11 January 2013
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.”
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
Migrants crossing the Mediterranean: Pope Francis joins calls for EU action on boat refugees
Yemen crisis: Meet the child soldiers who have forsaken books for Kalashnikovs
Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
Isis in Afghanistan: Group claims responsibility for Jalalabad suicide bombing that killed 35
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...