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‘It gives me a sense of worth again’ – A’s Story

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 17th September 2014

At The Reader, we're opening up the wealth of emotional experience contained in great literature to people regardless of which life situation they currently find themselves in. Our weekly read-aloud, shared reading groups operate around the country in a variety of settings, connecting people closer to books, stories and poems - and one another - with often very profound results.

Recently we received some feedback from one of our Readers attending a group in HMP Frankland, Durham, about their experience of shared reading.

A had been a keen reader, but found that with nobody to talk with about the things that he was reading that his enjoyment decreased. The act of reading, and rediscovering reading, was vital for A to maintain a sense of normal perspective about himself - something that he identifies as being hard to hold onto while in prison - and reconnect to a more positive mental outlook.

Saying that he was 'struggling' with life, A describes attending the shared reading group at the prison as being like 'a cool drink of water on a hot day seemingly without end'. Though recognising the benefits of reading on an individual level, shared reading within a group appears to make a particular difference:

"If reading by oneself in isolation is inherently edifying, and I believe it to be so, then how much more so when you read with others of a like mind? The connections and insights of a shared reading group are endless and some of those most in need of new connections and insights are prisoners. I myself have actually become more tolerant of people and value their opinions far more than I used to as I am constantly amazed by the depth of those insights which frequently resonate with me deeply."
The group has read a wide range of literature, from Silas Marner to Frankenstein, with A taking particular hold of the emotional depth of such works: "[I] have learnt more of what it is to be a human being." Since attending the group, A says that his skills of expression have improved, as well as his confidence, which had been lacking for the majority of his life.
And yet it is not just within himself that A sees the most benefit - the experience of reading and discussing great literature has had an impact on others too:
"I have seen my friends reading and then writing poetry in their own time who before attending the group had not the faintest idea about it nor the inclination to find out.
It connects us, prisoners, lifers in a high security prison, with the beauty that we always suspected was beneath the concrete and razor wire or dimly remembered in another life. "
You can read A's powerful Reader Story in full on our website:,-hmp-frankland
Shared reading projects in the Criminal Justice sector offers opportunities for self-reflection and attitudes to be transformed, and can assist in reducing reoffending. Discover more, including our work in the North East, on our website:

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