Volunteer with members of the Tongariro Prison book clubA new monthly book club at Tongariro Prison is helping prisoners practise public speaking and become more confident being able to speak up and vocalise their thoughts in a positive way.

Gendi Te Keepa, Volunteer Coordinator at Tongariro Prison, founded the group in February last year.

“I could see that a lot of effort is spent on raising the literacy levels of those who need it in the prison but I wanted to find a way to stimulate the minds of already literate prisoners,” she says.

“I have been a member of a Book Discussion Scheme for many years and felt that this style of book club could work as well in the prison setting as it could in the community.”

The nine men in the group are currently reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Each member, including a volunteer who facilitates the session, gets a copy of the book as part of the Book Discussion Scheme and they meet once a month where they have a healthy discussion about their thoughts and learnings from the book, as well as a bit of fun and laughter.

Other books the group have read include Beyond Religion by the Dalai Lama, All Blacks Don’t Cry by John Kirwan and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

Chandler* has been taking part in the book club for around six months and has thoroughly enjoyed it.

“A wide variety of books are chosen appealing to different readers and subject matter. Most, well all, of the books I wouldn’t have picked up myself so I’ve found it has really broadened my reading perspective,” he says. “I will stick with it as long as possible and would recommend the group to anyone with any sort of interest in reading.”

Another member of the group, David*, has found the group has been an amazing experience and really looks forward to their meeting each month.

“For me it’s a bit of an escape,” he says. “It’s interesting to see the views of others in the group, how they have perceived the books we have read; even the books we don’t like turn into great discussion.  The facilitators have been great.”

A number of other prisons in New Zealand also run book groups for prisoners.