Writing helps prisoners change
A creative writing competition in prison provided another ingredient for a range of programs offered to those behind bars.
“New Chapters,” run by the Otago Daily Times in conjunction with Corrections, is now entering its final impetus as prisoners refine their submissions.
While it caught the imaginations of dozens of inmates, there were many behind bars without basic reading and writing skills.
Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) Acting Deputy Director Renee Clarkson said 70% of those who entered prison were functionally illiterate – many suffered from learning disabilities such as dyslexia, or had no just failed to attend school.
“We live in a literate world,” Ms. Clarkson said.
“Everyone needs these basic skills.”
“New Chapters,” she said, was an opportunity for the men of OCF to develop their literary skills, make their voices heard, work on something they could be proud of and gain a feeling of self-confidence through their writing.
The latest winner of the competition recently recounted how it changed his life, giving him confidence and direction.
Regional Volunteer Coordinator Moana Wahanui supervised 40 volunteers and led several programs such as the Creative Writing Workshops which ran alongside New Chapters.
She said the number of volunteers greatly contributed to the variety of rehabilitation programs that could be conducted.
When an inmate arrived in prison, he met with a case manager who helped him plan rehabilitation programs.
Any inmate who did not master numeracy or literacy was placed in a program that helped develop those skills.
The programs did not look like a typical high school classroom, despite the classrooms used.
It is recognized that the education system did not work for many of them in the first place, so the approach is more practical and emphasizes practical skills and confidence building.
Both Ms Wahanui and Ms Clarkson spoke about the impact receiving a certificate could have on men.
“For many, this is the first time they’ve been recognized for accomplishing something,” Ms. Clarkson said.
“It does a lot for someone to validate their efforts like this.”
The programs, which included targeted drug and alcohol treatment, as well as courses on domestic violence and parenting, aimed to give prisoners a chance to reintegrate and live fully.
“It gives them hope for something different on the outside,” Ms. Clarkson said.
Prison is not and cannot simply be a tool of exile from the problems of society, she said.
The winners of the “New Chapters” will be announced next month.
– By Bo Beaufill
- Bo Beaufill is a student in the Department of Criminology at the University of Otago and co-director of “New Chapters” this year.