A long serving prisoner at Christchurch Men’s Prison has discovered a passion for learning that he says has changed his life and given him a plan for a future in employment and away from crime.

Sam* is benefitting from Corrections’ education programmes that are seeing increasing numbers of offenders gain literacy and numeracy skills and engage in extended study while in prison.

Canterbury’s three prisons are delivering wide ranging education programmes to provide offenders with the skills for new lives, including for employment, after release.

Corrections research shows around 65 percent of prisoners lack the literacy and numeracy skills for modern life, and so education classes are a key focus of Corrections as a means of reducing reoffending by helping offenders develop skills for employment.

“A large proportion of the people in prisons have fallen out of the education system or have learning difficulties and have struggled to learn,” says Assistant Prison Director Canterbury Prisons, Pablo Godoy. “This often creates a self belief that they are stupid or can’t learn or achieve educationally.”

“Through education programmes we are building confidence and skills for life on the outside and opening up a world of opportunities for people’s futures both within and outside prison.”

Sam is one of the 94 men in Canterbury Prisons, around 10% of the prison population, doing a New Zealand Certificate in Foundation Studies. This study can result in a NZCFS Level 1 Certificate or Level 2 qualification.

“It felt good to begin my study,” Sam says. “I’ve wasted hundreds and thousands of hours sitting in prison essentially staring at the walls. As I’ve gotten older I find I can no longer be content watching my life leak away whilst being of no benefit to myself, my daughter or my grandchildren.”

Sam left school towards the end of the 3rd form without qualifications and says his life had gone off the rails at a young age.

“I was made a ward of the state and school wasn’t any kind of priority for me.  I was made to believe things about myself which were both harmful and untrue, like I was incapable of succeeding and lacked the smarts to achieve in a constructive or purposeful pursuit.

“It has taken me several weeks to work my way through the course material.  I’ve enjoyed the feeling of usefulness and achievement my progress, and tutor feedback, has given me.

“Working with numbers is something I’ve previously felt intimidated by. It feels good to have completed the ‘Everyday Numbers’ book because I’m now comfortable around arithmetic and confident I possess the skills to come up with the solution to everyday maths problems.”

“Prisoners’ literacy and numeracy levels are assessed by education assessment tutors soon after they arrive at prison,” explains Michele Wisternoff, Principal Adviser Rehabilitation and Learning, Christchurch Men’s Prison.

“This numeracy and literacy score helps us develop a targeted learning pathway toward a goal alongside the prisoner. This pathway could aim them towards Intensive Literacy and Numeracy (ILN), NZCFS Level 1 and level 2 and then on to Self Directed Learning (SDL).

“In my experience one of the main things that holds offenders back from beginning education in prison is fear of failure or thinking they lack the skills to achieve success,” she says.

“Many offenders, like Sam, for a variety of reasons, have not had good experiences in a formal academic environment.

“Within the prison they can receive strong support from tutors, external providers, volunteers and custodial staff to encourage them and help them achieve their goals. Many are surprised at what they can achieve once they commit to regular study. With that comes a sense of pride in overcoming hurdles that have previously prevented them from embarking on a path leading to greater education.”

For Sam the support of the tutor has made a significant difference for his learning.

“I found my tutor willing to offer both assistance and encouragement in a life where I’ve experienced very little of either, that helped me successfully navigate the course.

“It made me feel really good to be doing something productive for myself.  I’ve done more to further the cause of myself, my daughter and my grandchildren in the last 2 months than I have in the last 20 years.

“I feel this course has enabled me to begin moving my life towards a brighter tomorrow and away from the futility and despondency which had been the hallmarks of a troubled life.  Anybody who wants a brighter future, to increase the amount of choices they have or to take a step towards something new, the one thing I know you can do for yourself, which can be a springboard on to other opportunities is these programmes.”

Sam has plans to continue his education, including undertaking a course on psychology “in the hope of gaining insight into not just how others think but myself as well.”

“The one thing I do know, after completing this course, is that’s not beyond me.”