Text: Paul Wailen
Prison Rule 1 states: ‘The purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage and assist them to lead a good and useful life’.
The Mount prison has over 700 prisoners, many of them serving long sentences and for some very serious crimes. Most of them are not proud of that fact and many are ashamed of it. However, if you or I had experienced the kind of upbringing that many of these prisoners experienced – well, who knows?
Half of the population here are black and come from a variety of ethnic populations and religious/cultural backgrounds. We have prisoners from Africa, South America, South and South East Asia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Middle East and various parts of Europe. They are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Rastafarian or claim no religious belief at all. Their cultural spread and diversity brings many problems but offers a rich cultural heritage also. The problems are opportunities also.
All of these men will be released back into society at some stage; many of them back into the communities and social/economic conditions from whence they came. Hopefully (but there is no guarantee) we will have given them some guidance and support in order for them to change their lifestyle and criminal ways of behaving. Of course, following release that is entirely a matter for them, but if it does nothing else, prison should enable them to see that there is another way. Hopefully, we can help them to choose that way.
Standards of literacy and numeracy in prisons are very poor. Dyslexia is widespread. Two thirds of prisoners have a reading level below 14 and seventy percent have numeracy skills below the same age, the crucial level that opens doors to employment. As a result, 96 out of every 100 employment opportunities are closed to prisoners upon release. However, research shows that the factors that help a prisoner keep away from crime are a family to support him, a home to live in and a job to earn income. Given the above factors, what chance do people have to break the habit?
Public funds and resources, as in other public services, are tight in the Prison Service. Ministers have decided that the funds allocated to education in prisons should be directed to improving literacy, numeracy and IT skills that will get the majority of prisoners above that crucial 14-year level. Much work is going on across the Prison Service to improve literacy, numeracy and basic IT skills.
However, there are some prisoners above that level already and who have the desire to increase and expand their knowledge and for whom such progress is often a means of helping them change their lifestyle and criminal ways.
For all prisoners, drama can be a very effective means of giving people the opportunity to see that there are other ways of doing things. It can also help give people a greater perception of the needs of others and of society generally, rather than the rather narrow and self-centred approach that many offenders have adopted previously.
London Shakespeare Workout have kindly volunteered their services to The Mount to assist such people and I am asking you if you would help them in this work by offering them some support. Bruce Wall and his colleagues and volunteers do a tremendous job in helping people reduce their offending behaviour pattern. In the long run we can only benefit from that.
Please help them if you can.