Sonnets and haiku are not something you’d expect to come across inside prisons, but prisoners from Christchurch Men’s, Christchurch Women’s and Rolleston Prisons will be aware of National Poetry Day on Friday 30 July.
Canterbury region prisons Librarian Susan Smith says poetry has gained popularity amongst the prisoners. The prisoners at the three Canterbury prisons don’t just read poetry, they also write and publish their own, usually as a result of courses or professional mentoring.
“Much of the value of writing poetry lies in their ability to reflect upon their experience and hopefully address the issues that keep bringing them back here,” says Susan. “We have a prisoner who writes poetry to his daughter each week, another who reads TS Eliot.”
National Poetry Day Coordinator Siobhan Harvey says the events aren’t just for established poets, it’s for people who simply want to give poetry a go. “Poems transport us, and when performed at events they open up worlds and moments in time,” she says.
Efforts to improve literacy and numeracy education for prisoners is one of the main focuses of the Department of Correction’s efforts to rehabilitate offenders and reduce reoffending. There is a high demand for information, learning materials, and self-improvement resources, and prison libraries, in collaboration with other prison programmes, can play a vital role in meeting these needs.
Poetry apart, Christchurch Men’s, Rolleston and Christchurch Women’s all have library stock of up to six thousand titles at each prison and issue around 800, 350 and 150 books a week respectively.
The libraries at Christchurch Men’s, Christchurch Women’s and Rolleston Prisons are pretty exceptional among libraries in New Zealand prisons. Susan and her colleague Judith Wenborn are two of only seven professional and dedicated librarians working in New Zealand prisons, using systems and procedures commonly used by public libraries.
Stocks are funded through community grants and through donations from the community and staff working at the prisons in Christchurch.
“The library is about providing prisoners with learning and information, and that’s respected by the prisoners who come in here.”
For further information contact the Communications Services Desk:
There is more information about National Poetry Day events on the website of New Zealand Post Book Awards.
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