GAB was delighted to go to a characteristically inspiring event in HMP Pentonville the other day. The occasion was to celebrate The Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge which encourages people with low or neglected reading abilities to take up the literacy challenge. More than 50% of prisoners have a reading age of under 11, that is to say are functionally illiterate. GAB is pleased to give dictionaries to those who complete this challenge.
HMP Pentonville has won The Reading Agency’s Gold Award (given to Prisons with over 150 completers) two years running. Nick Walmsley, the prison’s assistant governor, spoke informatively and warmly about the prison’s history and the crucial importance of education in not only stopping re-offending but also just in enabling a normal life, eg getting a job. He also spoke of the importance of collaboration between the prison, the library under the excellent stewardship of Mona Banerjee, and outside agencies including The Reading Agency, The Shannon Trust and Give a Book in helping such reading initiatives to work.
Andy McNab was the guest of honour and told us all how it was reading that had changed his life. He quoted the Army Educational Centre Captain who first got him reading when he was a lad: “You lot think you’re thick. But you’re not thick, you’re just uneducated…..And the only reason you can’t read and write is because you don’t read and write. Today all that changes…” And that day in HMP Pentonville many more who never thought they could completed The Six Book Challenge.