Read­ing’s pre­cious, in­mates told

Upper Hutt Leader - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN WIL­LIAMS

‘‘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.

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