Save the Date!

PRG is holding its annual Reading in Prison Day at the University of Roehampton, London SW15 on Friday, June 9th. There will be three major themes this year: ‘Putting the library at the heart of the prison’; ‘Reading and families’, and ‘Why read?’

We expect over 100 delegates: prison governors, librarians and volunteers, authors, ex-prisoners and representatives of education and literacy organisations. The event is free to all and includes lunch and refreshments, not least the famous PRG cake.

For further details, get in touch via email or Twitter.

HMP Thameside’s Autumn Literary Festival

Prison Reading Groups volunteer Maggie Gallagher reports on Thameside’s recent Literary Festival.
All photos appear courtesy of Neil Barclay.

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Author Clare Mackintosh, librarian Neil Barclay and PRG volunteer Maggie Gallagher

Not one for sitting around letting the grass grow under his feet, Neil Barclay, librarian at HMP Thameside, had no sooner finished organizing his library’s contribution to Black History Month in October than he was hyperactively off again with a new programme of author visits to round off the last three months of the year.

Many authors queued up to visit Thameside and share their thoughts, reveal their secrets and enlighten their audiences of prisoners, staff and volunteers. Among them were: Clare Mackintosh, ex-copper and author of I See You, her follow-up to blockbuster I Let You Go (a film version of which is currently under discussion in Hollywood); the fantastically popular crime writer Peter James (Love You Dead, 18 million copies sold); psychological thriller writer C L Taylor talking about her latest dark and twist-laden novel The Missing; and internet self-published sensation Mark Edwards with his chart-topping Follow You Home chiller. Another big name was Ann Cleeves, whose novel Cold Earth was discussed with the group. Cleeve has written over 30 books, many of which have been made into television programmes, notably the Vera series for ITV and Shetland for BBC.

Not all books were crime or thriller though. Two authors coincidentally featured Japan as a location for at least half of their books. The first was Jackie Copleton, who told a gripping tale partly set in the aftermath of the atom-bombing of Nagasaki and the second, Sarah Moss, writer of Signs for Lost Children, had the protagonist’s husband visit Japan as it opened up to western influences in the late nineteenth century, fall in love with the country, and almost not return. Her discussion of the experience of the western male visitor to Japan in those times was simply fascinating.

Each session generated enthusiastic audiences, floods of questions, engaging responses and lengthy queues at the end to get copies of books signed. Clearly author visits at the prison get top billing with the prisoners, and Neil intends to continue them over the coming year, making the library as ever the bustling, lively, beating heart of HMP Thameside.

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Wellcome Book Prize nominee Sarah Moss

Book Clubs for Inmates

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PRG is pleased to announce an informal partnership with Book Clubs For Inmates, an initiative to establish and run reading groups in prisons in Canada. In 2013 PRG advised the Director Carol Finlay on getting started and BCFI now supports 26 book clubs in 17 prisons across seven Canadian provinces. We were pleased to welcome Carol to our recent Reading in Prison Day where she shared her international perspective and experience.

You can view all of our current partnerships here.

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Book Clubs for Inmates’ Director Carol Finlay speaking at Reading in Prison 2016

‘An inspiring and positive experience’: Reading in Prison 2016

Prison Reading Groups hosted our annual Reading in Prison event on Friday June 17th at the University of Roehampton. The day brought together PRG librarians and volunteers alongside a range of other reading organisations working in prisons. The aim was to celebrate the work we all do and explore news ways to join up our initiatives.

The day kicked off with coffee and pastries served by the wonderful hosting team from the University’s conferencing department, and with reading group facilitators from as far afield as the Isle of Wight and Kirkham, Lancs mingling with representatives from publishing houses who had travelled similar distances to meet them. We welcomed GateHouse, ReadZone, Bloomsbury, Penguin Random House, Picador and Ransom Books this year, and were grateful for generous supplies of sample copies, which no doubt will inspire the orders we receive from groups in the coming months.

PRG’s Director Sarah Turvey welcomed delegates and introduced the first session of the day, chaired by Victoria Gray, trustee of Give a Book.

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From one co-founder to another: Jenny Hartley presents Sarah Turvey with flowers

Victoria introduced a panel of librarians, library assistants and volunteers, who began the day by sharing what they’d been up to over the past year. It also featured Steve Whitmore, a Special Constable with the Metropolitan Police Service, who spoke on the promising groundwork laid by Give a Book’s nascent Books in the Nick initiative.

Topics ranged from working with emergent readers to managing group dynamics and supporting reading at Family Days. One standout session was the contribution from two former prisoners and reading group members from HMP Thameside. Both paid fulsome tribute to the librarian Neil Barclay, and to the PRG reading groups at the prison, described by one of the men as fostering ‘respect, community and a place where you are given a voice’.

Another highlight was Cathy Rentzenbrink whose memoir The Last Act of Love, was short-listed for the Wellcome Prize earlier this year. Cathy is also a former project director of Quick Reads and has extensive experience of working with prisoner readers. Her talk was both a moving account of a family tragedy and a powerful analysis of how literacy and education can tackle the exclusion and alienation experienced by many prisoners.

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Cathy Rentzenbrink, whose publishers, Picador, were kind enough to donate 20 copies of The Last Act of Love to PRG librarians and volunteers

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC opened the afternoon’s sessions with a keynote address. She talked about the importance of books, and their part in helping prisoners create a new sense of self.

The final session was an exploration of the possibilities of poetry introduced by Rachel Billington, poetry editor of Inside Time. Facilitators at Send, Wormwood Scrubs and Thameside talked about using poetry in their groups and the session ended with a mini workshop on how to navigate a challenging poem, facilitated by Cathy Wells-Cole, a volunteer at HMP Wandsworth and HMP High Down.

The afternoon closed with a drinks reception, and the famous PRG cake:

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I have returned to work in a prison library with renewed determination to get through whatever red tape there is, in order to get books to prisoners.

Librarian, HMP Foston Hall