Half of England’s prisoners are illiterate. Since most of us learn to read and write in the first year or two of school, it feels almost impossible to imagine. But Angela Cairns, CEO of prisoners reading charity Shannon Trust, knows all too well how illiteracy can feel.
“I sometimes hear a prisoner describing themselves as a ‘bad ‘un’. They say: ‘I was a bad ‘un because I was frustrated’, ‘because I couldn’t read the letters and notices that went around’, or ‘I couldn’t choose what I wanted to eat from a menu card, so I’m just randomly picking’. These are people who feel they have so little control over their lives that they can’t even choose what to eat.”
There are several charities that teach prisoners how to read, but Shannon Trust is unique: all of its 2,000 or so mentors are prisoners themselves. Prisoner–mentors, working with the charity, are helping more than 4,000 other inmates learn to read. The need is huge: 50 per cent of all prisoners in England are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they have a reading age of 11 or lower, while many are completely illiterate. The impact on their employability, unsurprisingly, is huge.
Mentors receive training from Shannon Trust volunteers before beginning to work with learners, gradually building up their key literacy skills and confidence. There are no tests or exams, but after completing a few exercises learners choose a couple of books from Shannon Trust’s reading programme Turning Pages. Cairns’s personal favourite from the charity’s collection is a romance about a trucker who falls for a girl in his local fish and chip shop.
“I heard a senior manager in a prison tell a group of mentors recently: ‘You’ve done something that nobody else has managed to do before’: teach their learners to read,” says Cairns.
Source : Positive News