Gaining trust helps learning happen

Volunteer Beverly Iremonger guides a young offender at the Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit.A Howard League volunteer has been supporting prisoners at Christchurch Women’s Prison and Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit with their literacy needs for over two years.

Beverly Iremonger, a former nurse, had cared for a young man who had been in prison.

“He couldn’t read and this caused problems with his treatment and interactions with hospital staff,” says Beverly.

“After I retired, I wanted to do something different. When I heard Mike Williams* on the radio talking about prisoners’ low literacy levels, how that adds to their offending and hinders their chance of getting a job, I thought I could help.”

Beverly currently has two students in the Youth Unit who she teaches twice a week for up to an hour and a half.  She uses the Howard League literacy programme as a teaching guide, and tailors her teaching to the prisoner’s interests.

“I ask new students to write about their life, experiences and interests, or tell a story.”

Initially apprehensive about teaching literacy in prison, Beverly has learned to relax and enjoy the time with her students.

“Gaining their trust and seeing them achieve with a few laughs along the way is extremely rewarding,” she says.

“Most start lacking confidence and are sometimes defensive. Once I get their trust, learning happens. It’s the one-on-one time that makes the most difference.”

*Mike Williams is Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.