News

Behind bars, newspapers have special power

Reading a newspaper can greatly benefit a prison inmate, even more so than a book, argues former prisoner Chandra Bozelko in a compelling essay appearing in Quartz, the online news outlet of Atlantic Media.

by Nick Tjaardstra nick.tjaardstra@wan-ifra.org | August 14, 2015

An American, Bozelko was raised in an upper-middle-class family and spent six years, three months and eleven days at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Conn., for identity theft and other charges (which she denies). She is the author of Up the River: An Anthology, a collection of poems describing life for incarcerated women, and also blogs about her prison experiences at prison-diaries.com.

While in prison, she found newspapers better than books both for herself and for women with low reading skills.

“Real life was never as good as the story I had been reading,” she writes. “To finish a book was often so disheartening that sometimes I wondered if I should even start another one, knowing how I would feel when I finished.

“Better than any book, newspapers were lifesavers that pulled me closer to shore because each new edition marked a new day, an invitation to rejoin a world that kept moving while I was inside.”

While working in the prison library she began to help women with their reading. “Starting a book with a woman who cannot read well only highlights her lack of ability, because after an hour you’ve only advanced two pages,” she explains. “But a newspaper article she can complete. See? You did it! You finished!”

Her arguments echo the classic reasons for using newspapers with students young and old: “Newspapers’ advantages for any remedial reader are many: the journalistic approach to stories enhances comprehension, stories are varied and change daily, reading editorials and op-eds fosters critical thinking skills.”

She calls on legislators to fund a national and local newspaper for every inmate, to aid the vast majority of prisoners who have low reading skills, at least at the same level of support given to do university coursework.

WAN-IFRA has created a workbook in English and Spanish for using the newspaper with adult learners. For more information contact aralynn.mcmane(at)wan-ifra.org.

(Photo at top by E. Toll)