Inmates rewarded for reading

| 13/03/2009

(CNS): The power of literacy skills to improve people’s lives should never be underestimated and no where more so than in the prison system. Each week volunteers from the Cayman Islands Reading Aids programme spend time offering one-on-one reading lessons to inmates at HMP Northwood. This week the work of Michelle Pentney, the prison training Coordinator, the volunteers from CIRA and the inmates was acknowledged at an awards ceremony.

“This programme helps many people whether they are in the community or in prison, to gain the listening, speaking, reading, writing and math skills they need to solve problems they encounter in daily life. There is a sense of satisfaction in helping anyone to read. I firmly believe that the reading skills taught through the CIRA programme are an essential building block in helping ones in prison to successfully rehabilitate,” said Pentney.

Rotary Central is an important supporter of CIRA and its only source of funding and Paul Byles President Elect of Rotary Central noted why literacy programmes in prison are essential.

“The Reading Aids program is a valuable service to our community and the inmates have shown a passionate interest in learning to read over the years. This will help them to better function as they rejoin society,” Byles said. He noted the importance of being able to read to understand a person’s social and economic environment and engaged the inmates in the issues surrounding the global financial crisis and what it means to Cayman.

Byles said he was impressed with the level of participation at the session and the way the two inmate speakers spoke about literacy. “It was very encouraging to hear them speak about what it means to them to be able to read. Reading certainly opens up a lot of doors to life and as one of the inmates put it – once you have the ability to read and the knowledge that comes with it, no one can take that away from you,” he added

Alice Mae Coe, a long time supporting tutor on the programme spoke about the importance of perseverance and Rick Springer a psychologist and author spoke about dealing with life’s challenges.

Inmates in the CIRA program learn they can succeed, and as their self–esteem grows, they become able to achieve personal goals such as reading books to their children, and teaching and helping others who are struggling with the same problems they had. Prison Director Dwight Scott thanked Rotary Central for their continued support of CIRA and at Northward in particular.

 “I want to personally thank Rotary Central for all their support over the yearsfor this very important programme here at her Majesty Prison” he said, with applause from the inmates.

Despite the exceptionally high illiteracy rates in the prison and probation system this is the only programme offered to prisoners and without it there would be no classes for those who have more often than not found themselves on the wrong side of the law because of their poor educational levels. Pentney said that to keep the programme going she is in desperate need of more volunteers in particular those who can spare two hours on Wednesday lunchtimes and Monday evenings.

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