One Page: Learning to read helps family and friends stay close

Ian Merrill
December 7, 2023

It’s the time of year when many of us link up with family and friends, either getting together or through seasonal messages. Even if we don’t see them often, we tend to think about those who matter most to us, and everything they bring to our lives.


Back in 2017, Ministry of Justice research showed that the odds of someone in prison reoffending after release were 39% lower if they received visits from a family member. At the Ministry’s request, Lord Farmer undertook a couple of reviews, guided by the principle that relationships are important in helping people change. Here commended some practical steps for those in the prison system to maintain ties with family and close friends. His report includes the words of one prisoner: “If I don’t see my family I will lose them, if I lose them what have I got left?”


Rehabilitation statistics aside, our close connections matter. They are part of who we are. It's easy to imagine what face to face visits and family days mean to someone in prison, but most people need other contact too, to help bridge the gaps.


Michael, one of our learners, explains what learning to read has meant to his relationships. “Shannon Trust has changed my life. My family started sending me greeting cards because I can read them. How joyful I was to receive a Christmas card from my family for the first time! I can now receive and write letters.”


When Joe began our Turning Pages books, it was the hope of strengthening ties with home that motivated him: “I want to be able to read the letters my daughter writes to me and be able to write back.” Having finished our workbooks he reflected, “I am now more involved with my children. My relationships with friends and family are now more intimate as I can express myself honestly as I don’t have to rely on others to speak for me.”


Recently, I joined our family reading celebration event, at HMP Wandsworth. Our celebration events are always enjoyable occasions, but being joined by families made this one extra special, with eleven adult visitors and nine children. Ten of our learners and mentors received certificates of achievement, with their parents, partners and children being able to share in the applause.


Give a Book donated books, and following the presentations there was time and space for the men to play with their children, making bookmarks, decorating book bags and icing cakes.


Afterwards, mentor Aaron said: “This quote is by a philosopher named Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The secret to education lies in respecting the student.’ Shannon Trust has absolutely hit the nail on the head when it comes to this: peer mentoring is genius, immediately you can relate to the learner because you are both in prison, this also eradicates any preconception of subordination that can sometimes hinder learning and makes way for an unprecedented educational experience. The books are pure gold; structured in a step by step, easy to use format, benefiting both learners and mentors.”


Lucas, one of our learners, talked about the experience from his side. “We started with reading words and breaking them down, also with vowels and teaching me what vowels actually mean. Because I left school at age 13, I didn’t really understand. But luckily Aaron has been helping me and now I’m starting to learn a lot more that I didn’t really know before”.


In essence, this is what Shannon Trust is all about. We offer those who didn’t pick up reading or basic maths as children the chance to learn now. Of course, it’s great when our learners go on to further education as many do, but it’s being able to read and write confidently enough to swap letters and cards with the people who matter most that gives families and friends a tangible way to stay in touch. Being able to read is a great connector of people.


Please get in touch if anything I have written resonates with you; whether you agree, disagree or have a suggestion for how we can improve what we do.

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