Text: Julie Mills
To whom it may concern:
I am happy to provide a letter of support for the London Shakespeare Workout Prison Project.
The aim of education in prisons is to facilitate effective lifelong learning at all levels. The particular emphasis is on reducing offending behaviour through addressing an individual’s criminogenic factors (those factors that are likely to contribute to the person reoffending). One criminogenic factor is that of a lack of employability.
Recent research has shown that while only 20% of the adult population have
basic skills needs deficiencies, between 60 and 75% of prisoners have them. According to the Basic Skills Agency this gives prisoners access to only four in 100 jobs. Our curriculum is therefore focused on the development of basic skills in literacy and numeracy.
Enabling someone to improve their communication skills or ability to use numbers effectively is not simply about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Much of what goes on in our classrooms is about building confidence, developing self-esteem and motivating a group of men for whom education is not an automatic choice.
Participation in a Shakespeare Workout can directly address these issues. In a single afternoon a group of disaffected, cynical and self-conscious men are transformed into individuals with confidence and commitment, who have demonstrated an ability to concentrate on and work with texts and language that may have been considered inaccessible prior to the Workout.
Carefully structured activities break down barriers between our students and the actors and as our students gain confidence in working with the texts and ideas presented it becomes more difficult to separate the two groups.
The Shakespeare Workouts at HMP Woodhill and HMP The Mount have been successful because of the hard work of Bruce and the team of actors who volunteer to work with our students and because of the determination of our staff to make things happen. It’s a logistical challenge getting a group of eight to 15 actors in and safely out of a Category A secure prison, however the challenges have, in my opinion been well worth it. Indeed a participant at the most recent Workout at HMP Woodhill reported to me the next day that whilst most of the year would be blotted from his memory, the afternoon he spent with the Shakespeare Workout was an experience he would want to remember. It has inspired him to write poetry about tapping into one’s creativity and has helped him to begin to think about his future more positively.
The Prison Service focus on basic and key skills development along with the requirement for all programmes provided by education departments to lead to nationally recognised qualifications means that we cannot fund the workouts from our education budgets. I believe that the programme can make a difference to the individuals who participate and that as a consequence it can contribute to our collective goal of reducing re-offending. I hope that Bruce and his team can secure the necessary funding to enable the project to continue and expand and that others can benefit from the London Shakespeare Workout Prison Project Experience.
Prison Contract Manager