How it all began – our founder’s story

I’m Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE and I was diagnosed as severely dyslexic in my 40s – it took a while!

Growing up, I was always a happy child that was until I went to school. With a thirst for learning, I was definitely and enthusiastic pupil but I was soon branded as ‘thick’ and a failure but I had no idea why. I was simply unable to learn to read and write like the other children and was, sent to the remedial class where I spent most of my days colouring in and playing with beads.

Despite my avid curiosity about the wider world, I became increasingly frustrated that none of her teachers seemed to know how to teach me. At secondary school things only got worse; I began to self-harm, developed eating disorders and seriously considered suicide.

Leaving school with no qualifications, I had a succession of jobs, and finally started a sandwich round, which grew into a flourishing catering business. I then opened a health food shop, which grew into another successful business. And then my whole world turned upside down when one of my teenage sons suffered major head injuries in a car accident.

Written off by the NHS, he was sent home and I had to abandon everything to look after him. As a result of his injuries, he had to learn to read and write again. I visited academics and researched different ways of learning, which I then combined into a unique approach to help my son. Despite my own poor literacy skills, I taught my son to speak, read and write all over again.

Once he was well enough, I took him to college each day to do the exams he had missed at school. It was there that I met a brilliant teacher, Sue Blackburn, who immediately recognised my own learning difficulties and arranged an assessment for me. This led to a statement of special educational needs (SEN), which diagnosed severe dyslexia, along with dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and slight Asperger’s syndrome. So, I wasn’t thick after all!

This was the springboard I needed and I went on to study for a degree in SEN (special educational needs) and a PGCE teaching qualification. For my dissertation, I chose to research a sadly neglected area – dyslexia in prisons. From this was born the idea for my prison projects and the seed was sown that grew into this amazing charity – The Cascade Foundation.

Make a donation

If you’d like to support Jackie’s work, you can make a donation to The Cascade Foundation via the Paypal link below using your credit or debit card. Many thanks in advance!

Jackie Hewitt-Main OBE, founder of The Cascade Foundation

Further information

When Jackie initially planned her first project at HMP Chelmsford, she tried to establish what percentage of prisoners had dyslexia or characteristics of dyslexia-related learning difficulties. She was informed that this would be the same as the general population, namely around 10%. This did not correlate with the high numbers of prisoners she had talked with previously when doing her post-graduate dissertation.

This prompted Jackie to carry out her own research. So, she undertook a comprehensive study in which she interviewed each of the 2,029 offenders who were admitted to HMP Chelmsford in 2006-2007 and assessed all of those who had difficulties with reading and writing..

The illuminating results of this study are detailed in her final report entitled ‘Dyslexia Behind Bars’, which can be ordered from our online shop on this website.

A summary of interview and assessment findings

2,029 offenders General Population
Dyslexia 53% 10%
Traumatic head injury affecting learning 16% 1% – 2%
ADHD 17% 3% – 5%
Left school with no qualifications 48% 20%
Literacy skills below average 12 year-old 79% 24%
Had been in care 23% 1%
Kinaesthetic preferred learning style¹ 54% Estimated 10%
Offenders preferring 23/7 in cells rather than attend education in classrooms² 60%

¹ Traditional education in prisons consists of lessons suited to those whose preferred learning styles are visual or auditory and rarely if at all to those with stronger kinaesthetic learning styles

² Detailed discussions with these prisoners uncovered two main reasons:

  • a morbid fear of classrooms where they had always failed throughout their schooling
  • the unwillingness or embarrassment of many to admit they were unable to read or write.

These statistics give a dramatic overview of factors which may be responsible for offenders re-offending, especially those who cannot fill in forms, read instructions, etc.