Reading’s precious, inmates told
‘‘Some of the earliest and happiest memories I have are of my mother reading to me,’’ says Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.
‘‘She read me fairy stories and legends and poetry and the magic has never left me.’’
Her childhood reflections came when speaking at a Rimutaka Prison ceremony recognising the literacy achievement of inmates and the work of the Howard League for Penal Reform on October 4.
‘‘I am lucky to still have my mother. She is 91 and lives by herself and she is as sharp as a tack,’’ New Zealand’s first female Chief Justice said.
‘‘My mother is also my most severe critic. Sometimes I think it is very good for a Chief Justice to have a mother to cut you down to size every now and then.’’
Elias said her mother was very happy on learning she was talking at the prison because ‘‘she knows how precious the ability to read is’’.
‘‘And the men and women, the volunteers of the Howard League who have tutored you, know how important this skill is,’’ she told the prisoners.
‘‘Learning as an adult take special effort and determination and courage.
‘‘As adults, we don’t have the structure for learning around us. There are too many distractions.
‘‘Reading is essential to participation in any society, however small and closed; however big and open. So it matters in this place, as well as outside.’’
Literacy allowed people to fully take part in society, Elias said.
‘‘If you don’t have literacy skills, you live on the fringes ... you can’t satisfy the curiosity that all human beings have. You can’t follow your own nose and be your own person.’’
The prisoners had not just reached a destination but had committed to a journey, she said.
‘‘Literacy is the biggest hurdle, because it is the skill you need to learn more.
‘‘But you can’t give up on learning. And the reality is, everyone has to continue to learn new skills and obtain new knowledge in life because nothing stands still.
‘‘That’s true even in the area I work in,’’ Elias said.
Seven Rimutaka men received attainment certificates, bringing to 100 the number of prisoners who have been part of the league’s programme at the Upper Hutt prison.
‘‘Learning as an adult take special effort and determination and courage,’’ Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias told the prisoners. Above, speaking with an inmate.