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Reader Story: Robert, Greater Manchester Probation Trust

Written by Emma Walsh, 23rd June 2017

"I’ve felt more relaxed in this room than in any other place in this prison. This is as ‘normal’ as life can be while we’re here."

Robert* is in his 80s and is the oldest member of the Shared Reading group. He joined during the fourth session and has attended every week since, always walking into the room with lots of ‘hellos’, a big smile and a ‘glad to be here’ attitude.

The whole group enjoys listening to Robert's stories from when he was young – and from throughout his life. He tells them very well and it seems to give him a lot of pleasure to reminisce. The younger members of the group in particular are fascinated to hear about how the world was different for him as a young man. And the other older members always check their facts about days gone by with him. He has shared brilliant stories about his time in the army, in Germany, as a bus driver, dating etiquette in the 1950s and about what Manchester used to be like.

Conversely, Robert said one session, when we were reading a story about race, that he found it very hard to know what language to use these days so as not to offend people. He said that when he'd been younger 'coloured' and 'negro' were words that were acceptable. But when he had used these words lately people - including his family - had been upset. He said that he felt upset as he had no intention of offending people but that he didn't understand what were the right and wrong things to say and why. Much good discussion ensued. The younger members of the group had lots to say on this topic, so the learning from the inter-generational discussions has happened both ways.

Robert has admitted to his love of the Shared Reading group and how it helps him cope with being in prison:

“I’ve felt more relaxed in this room than in any other place in this prison. This is as ‘normal’ as life can be while we’re here. I look forward to it every week. It takes me to places.”

One week Robert had been to the library and borrowed a collection of funny poetry, to which he treated us to some dramatic readings.

* Please note that all Reader Stories are anonymised

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