Casi Dylan, Read to Lead Training Manager, writes to tell us of her experiences in Parc Prison:
I just got out of prison. Parc Prison, near Bridgend, south Wales. A prison for men in the land of my fathers. And I’m thinking in a way that has never been quite so pertinent about The Big Issues: the nature of freedom and confinement and justice and things like that. And education. And in my hand, I’m playing with a rose, an unexpected parting gift. A bright red rose made of bread and glue.
This flower (kind after-thought rather than romantic gesture) was given to me by my guide for the afternoon, Phil Forder, Arts Intervention Manager at Parc Prison. Eager to investigate the possibilities of developing Get Into Reading at Parc, he had invited me over to get a feel for the arts and education programme that he and his colleagues run, as well as for the prison environment itself. It’s a large institution, keeping over 1000 men and boys up on a green hill above a grey town. It reminds me of a big gym, full of echoes, testosterone and tattoos.
Phil takes me to the education department where men improve their English and maths, and to the speckled art rooms where youngsters make paintings and pots to send home to mum. He takes me to the library, where Sian the librarian tells me about her attitude to reading groups, which is wonderfully similar to that of The Reader Organisation‘s.
It’s very relaxed – we always have some tea on the go. We’ve read some great books: White Teeth, Of Mice and Men. They bring out some good stuff. One of the prisoners told us the other day that he loves Classical music. He’d never admit to that on his wing, mind
She is relieved to hear that others with a similar ethos are developing reading groups ‘on the outside’; unsurprisingly, one can feel a bit isolated inside Parc.
‘We have to get Get Into Reading going in here’, I think.
Then Phil takes me to see a cell in B Wing. Young offenders. The air is full of after-shave, the walls tacked with FHM. The curtains incongruously frilly.
‘It’s very small in here,’ I think.
And at the end of the afternoon, Phil hands me the bread rose. ‘A prisoner made it,’ he says. ‘He refused to leave his cell for weeks, didn’t come to classes, but presented a bunch of these to me one day. He’s made it from bread and glue, squeezed it flat and folded it into this. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?’
It is. And sad. Somehow appallingly sad that from his daily portion, behind a thick door, an invisible inmate fashioned such immaculate fragility. Having hardened myself to what I had expected to encounter at Parc, I had not realised how vulnerable I was to such softness. And yet, from my experience with the revelations that Get Into Reading often inspires, I should have known to expect such human surprises. And I should be happy, not sad, in the thought that there is fertile ground for Get Into Reading in a Parc where bread roses grow.