Doing Time In The Library
Question: where in Swansea are some people learning to read and write while others are studying for university degrees? Answer: At the library in Her Majesty’s Prison in Swansea. The prison library has become something of a learning hub thanks largely to the efforts of the librarians, non- residents of the prison, Valerie Samuel and Vicky Dickeson, who go out of their way to encourage inmates to read and learn. In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Samuel said “We are constantly touting for business. We are always trying to convert people and encourage them to use the library. If we are out on a wing and see someone we haven’t spoken to before, or who says they don’t like books we will say, ‘what about comic books?’ and often they won’t have thought we stock them. We have created a very positive environment, we give people encouragement – from those improving their literacy right through to those who are studying.”
The library is open for three hours each morning and it seems the inmates are making full use of the 5,000 books it stocks. Take Tony who said “Before I came to the prison library I never thought of doing sitting and reading a book, if I was sat on the wing I would have got into trouble. Now I’m doing things I never would have done before, and reading books I never would have touched before….Before I came to jail my range of reading was not huge, but I am now reading way more. If the library wasn’t here people would go a bit mad. Reading takes you out of the walls, if it wasn’t here the jail would be worse.” Then there is Dan, who is studying for an English degree, “I’m 29 now, I hadn’t picked up a book in my adult life and the librarians encouraged me to do it. When I progress with my work, I think they feel proud. They show you that you can have a chance.” As for Craig, the library has enabled him to learn how to read “I hope that me learning will encourage my children to do it too. Now I have started reading I want to read other things. I finish every book I start and try to encourage every new prisoner to get involved with the library.” Sounds like the librarians’ work is done. And for those wondering what is the most popular genre of book in the library, it is true crime. That’s one way to get crime out of the system.