At 39, Dale had never had more than a few days out of prison in the past twenty years. Unable to read or write, he could not decipher the daily menu board, from which inmates are asked what they would like for their main meal. On the board were written the choices of main courses and desserts, but Dale could never read them. He felt too embarrassed and ashamed to admit it, so he always just said ‘I’ll have one and two.’ Of course, he never knew what he had ordered, nor whether it was something he liked or could eat.
Unable to read his movement slips, he had no idea where he was supposed to go or when. So he was unable to take on a prison job and not sufficiently literate or willing to join the education department, which he feared.
Dale had given up hope of ever having the kind of help he needed, which led him to become disengaged. He developed mental health issues, as well as physical symptoms of stress. He was referred to The Cascade Foundation’s project in HMP Doncaster as a last resort.
Astonished to find that Jackie and our ex-offender teacher, Colin actually took the time to listen to him, he gradually poured out his story and admitted his frustrations with not being able to read and write.
Jackie and Colin both shared with him their own past experiences, with so many similarities to Dale’s and for the first time in his life he felt he had met people who understood.
“You’re different Miss. You care. I can tell in your voice
that you care. I’m not just a number; not just a prisoner …
It’s been different, this. So I’ve started coming to classes
and I’ve learned loads. You taught me to read and write. Fantastic!’
Dale is dyslexic and started learning in our project at pre-entry level literacy, equivalent to a pre-school child. He learnt everything from his alphabet onwards, progressing fast through all the entry levels of Functional Literacy Skills. He is now working towards his level 1, which equates to the level of an average 12-year-old. This means that he has made eight years’ progress in just eight months. As he says himself, ‘Fantastic!’
When Dale was released, we met him at the gate, took him to all the different professionals he was supposed to see that day, none of whom appeared to have been notified of his released date, which meant a lot of waiting around and nearly being in breach of his curfew which, had it not been for us, would have put him straight back in prison on that first day.
We provided him with accommodation in our caring home, where he has flourished in every way. We found him voluntary work which he thoroughly enjoys and is giving him invaluable work experience. Dale no longer needs to see the DIP, since he has stayed off drugs and he has kept to his curfew since his release. In the two months since then, his psoriasis has completely cleared up, his nightmares almost gone, and much of his medication is no longer needed. He is a different man now, a man who feels valued, a man with self-esteem and hope for the first time in his life … and a man who can read a menu!
“I’ve been waiting twenty years for this – It’s changed my life.”