Lee Middle School students are helping local prison inmates turn the page to a better life — literally.
The Godfrey-Lee Public Schools eighth-grade students recently became aware of the stark correlation between illiteracy and incarceration, and it inspired them to take action by providing a local prison with more reading materials.
They challenged their sixth-through-eighth grade peers to donate books to inmates at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia.
They are working to collect as many books as possible to add to the shelves of the prison library, said eighth-grader Ja’Nae Matthews.
“We want to have a positive impact,” she said. “I hope it stops people from doing bad things in the future.”
It’s a way to help a population often cast aside by society, students said.
“It surprised me that they couldn’t read so they made bad choices,” said eighth-grader Casandra Dievendorf. “Their families can’t read to their kids.”
Students are competing by grade level to raise the most books, gathering donations of all types of genres and reading levels. The drive goes through the end of May.
“I hope they get more education from the books, learn from their mistakes. They can help themselves by reading,” said eighth-grader Carlos Savala.
Community members can drop off donations at Lee Middle/High School, 1335 Lee St. SW.
Editor’s Note: The Road to Reading series explores some of the reading activities you’ll find in our schools as well as difficulties students may face when learning to read. The series also examines early childhood ties to literacy and new initiatives to help all children read.
Inspired by Reading
Teacher Chris DeMaagd had her students read articles in class, which inspired the book drive. One piece, “Ex-con saved by reading uses literacy to combat crime by at-risk youth,” by Gail Rosenblum, published Oct. 30, 2014 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, tells the story of A.J. Briscoe, a former gang member and five-time felon.
DeMaagd was inspired by her daughter, Jacklyn DeMaagd, a criminal justice major at Grand Valley State University. Jacklyn took a class at the Ionia prison, which involved 15 GVSU students and 15 inmates. It gave her a new perspective.
“We really got to know them and it made me realize not everybody in prison is an terrible, evil monster,” said Jacklyn DeMaagd, who will deliver the books to the prison. “I think it will benefit them because it will help them realize people on the outside really care about their well being and want them to succeed when they get out.
DeMaagd said she knows of Lee students who have friends and family members in jail.
“Some of the students have connections personally, and they can do something that can help. They can see, ‘Wow,’ there’s someone who cares and wants to help.”
The Link Between Illiteracy and Incarceration
* 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
* More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
* Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16 percent chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70 percent who receive no help.
* Illiteracy and crime are closely related. According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” More than 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
Source: begintoread.com; dosomething.org