Dyslexic ex-prison of two years makes good thanks to Cascade!

Dale’s Story: Celebrating his second year out of prison

At 40 years old, Dale has been in and out of prison (23 years) throughout the whole of his adult life for theft, drugs and as a result of being homeless. Dale was diagnosed with dyslexia at 22 years old, his Mother died four weeks later, so nobody took the time to help Dale to understand his disability.  He also lost his children and any contact with his family. He felt the world had given up on him.

Education has been a problem for Dale over the last 23 years, repeatedly trying to get help within the prison system. As an example of how his complete lack of education has affected his life he was unable to read the prison food menu. As a result, he simply gave a random number between 1 and 5, with absolutely no idea what that food would be, often ending up with something he disliked but having no choice. Asking for help to read somethings as simple as a menu would have been embarrassing and shameful to him and so his life has been a series of poor choices.

Seeing his anxiety at being repeatedly called to education, some of the prison officers had tried to help Dale.  One of the policies within the system is that if you don’t go to education, you cannot work, therefore you have no money to buy small things like razors. You are placed on ‘Basic’, with no television and could be moved to a different cell or wing or be transferred at any time.  Many prisoners see this as further punishment, but for someone unable to read or write, there are few options available when locked in a cell for most of the day and through the night. Dale is a humble soul, but he was totally disengaged as a result of his failure at everything.

Dale’s mental health was deteriorating through the stress of repeatedly being called to take part in education, despite his phobia of classrooms. When a prisoner needs to move around the prison, they have to select their named ‘movement slip’ from those laid on a table. Then they must go where this slip tells them and at the times it says.  If you can’t read, you must ask someone to read it for you. This was the case for Dale. If he wanted to keep his prison job as a cleaner and not have to do ‘basic’, he was forced to attend education sessions that didn’t help him learn to read and write. This was soul-destroying for him. The officers on his wing asked for a member of the education staff trained in Hidden Disabilities to work with him, but none was forthcoming.

Our CEO and Project Director, Jackie was brought in to this prison specifically to help men with learning difficulties by the prison director John Biggin OBE in September 2013. Jackie Hewitt-Main was asked by staff to speak to Dale in hope that finally, he might receive some help. She sat with him and told her story and that of her youngest son, his accident and subsequent head injury and the various learning difficulties they’ve had to deal with in their lives. Jackie explained about multi-sensory teaching, how the way she taught was different to normal education, that it was not in a classroom and he wouldn’t be handed sheet after sheet of stuff he couldn’t read. She and our ex-offender teacher Colin would help him every step of the way and he would learn to read and write in a way that worked best for him.

Before joining The Cascade Foundation’s programmes, Dale did not know his alphabet. Within six weeks he had learnt it all. He was able to read and write a few words. Soon he was even able, with help, to write a letter to the Director John Biggin, OBE to thank him for allowing Jackie and The Cascade Foundation into the prison.

“I’ve been waiting 20 years for something like this to come along, for somebody to help me learn.”

When Dale first started on our programmes in September 2013, he was astonished to find that he could learn through our approach and his whole demeanour changed to one of positive enthusiasm, with a sense of purpose at last, and a determination to succeed. Jackie showed him how to do a mind-map of his learning goals and his aspirations for the future. This was the first time he had ever looked ahead with hope. Through Jackie’s teaching, Dales passed Entry levels 1, 2 and 3 Functional Literacy Skills in quick succession and is now working at the higher Level 1, which is equivalent to the average 11 or 12 years old.

Dale has progressed at the rate of a year’s improvement every month!

Dale now started to read the daily menu to others who couldn’t. Next he helped Jackie and the men in the print-shop to devise a pictorial menu so that no one would any more have to make blind choices of meals. He began to help other prisoners on his wing to read and write. Finally he had a purpose and he knew that the world did want him.

Dale had been working with Cascade for six months, he was to be released back into the community, Jackie, found out that he was going to be released homeless again, he had no support from the prison or probation he was going to be released homeless again, nobody would take the decision to what to do with Dale. Lynne Hill MBE, The Independent Monitoring Board in Doncaster prison stepped in, Lynne had known Dale for 15 years she has seen that he could read and write, he was a different person for the first time, she wanted this to continue so she helped Jackie and her team to get Dale to come and stay in the Cascade staff house.

Jackie spent the next day after his release helping him to fill in all the necessary forms to open a bank account, sign on with a doctor and a dentist, and enrol him at the job-centre, etc.

All this happened 1 year and 11 months ago, Dale lives in his own flat, he has cut down his smoking, remained clean of drugs and not drunk since his release. Both his physical and mental health have greatly improved. For example, his psoriasis has completely cleared up. He has been learning skills to care for horses, his love of sports has led him to do courses with the Doncaster Rovers, leadership and management. He has also done some gardening, learning about flowers and plants, which he has loved. At the moment he is taking part in a computer course, and then that will lead to an anger management course.

Institutionalised from his teenage years, Dale never learnt to do the ordinary everyday things, so we have taught him how to do food shopping, how to pay at a till, how to buy tickets for a bus/train/cinema, etc., how to open and use a bank account/card, how to use cleaning products, how to cook, what to do in a carvery restaurant and how to deal with many other aspects of life outside prison.

Dale has grown in self-esteem and confidence to such an extent that he recently stood and spoke very eloquently in front of an audience of 70 people about his aspiration to go round schools, colleges and youth-clubs, etc., talking to youngster about his experiences and showing them that the way he has turned his skills and attitudes around has transformed his life and his future prospects. He wants to tell youngsters at risk of offending that’s is not the way to go and what they can do to open new doors and change their futures for the better.

Dale was interviewed by ITV crew Surprise Surprise about our CEO Jackie. He was both confident and articulate and needed no second take!

As we expand our work, we hope to be in a position to offer Dale employment as our Ambassador – a role which he is ideally and aspirational suited.


Dale is funding raising for the charity that supported him over the last two years, and to help others like him.