Imagine not being able to read this blog - a different kind of volunteering

Updated: Jan 6, 2020

16% of our society would struggle to read this blog as they are considered functionally illiterate, they have a reading age of 11 or below. Yet, as soon as you set foot into a prison that number leaps to 50%, with 20% of them being completely illiterate. Imagine trying to operate in life whilst being unable to read and comprehend this.

Normal people

At Colbe, I have started on a long-term project to help get female prisoners into construction. Most people are praising me and telling what a worthwhile project this is, but not everyone. Two people up to now have had the opinion that once a person has committed a crime, they made their decision and society should not forgive them or help them, I should be helping ‘normal’ people (Please, if anyone ever sees one of these, let me know, I didn’t know we can all be grouped into Normal if you have never been caught committing a crime).

Many of you will have seen the videos highlighting advantages people gain in life due to nothing they have done themselves. Just search for ‘Take a step forward if’ on Youtube and there is a famous example (Find the time if you haven’t.) Let us imagine one of the statements was

“Take a step forward if one or both of your parents sat and helped you learn to read when you were a child”

I am guessing many offenders would not take that step forward.

When I talk about community work, you may immediately jump to a litter pick, community garden work or helping a less able person – nothing wrong with any of these. However, I would say think outside the box.

Groups like The Shannon Trust in London have mentors/volunteers that go into prisons and help those who want to be helped learn how to read. Check their website there is a great 4-minute video on the front page. That is a very different and yet amazingly rewarding and life-enhancing way to get involved and ‘give back’.


Imagine not being anxious when your new boss asks you to read that health and safety sheet on your first day.

Imagine not being fired because you didn’t lock the gate you were supposed to because it said it one the form you couldn’t read.

Imagine not calling in sick because you didn’t have the confidence to go to work on the day you knew there was a trainer coming in.

Imagine not returning to crime because you couldn’t see any way forward in your illiterate world.

I know the minority will probably never back what I am doing, I am not in any place to judge them. I will carry on with Colbe in trying to balance out the chances and opportunities.


Imagine being that person who helped an adult offender learn to read and move forward in life.

How would that make you feel?

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