Helen Clark in emotional ceremony at Auckland women's prison
Female prisoners have received some words of encouragement from Helen Clark.
The former prime minister, now the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, was at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility on Tuesday afternoon to congratulate its first literacy programme graduates.
The 12-week programme is run by the Howard League for Penal Reform and aims to get prisoners reading at a 10-year-old's level.
Between 50 and 70 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate, meaning they cannot read the road code, job application forms or legal documents, John Sinclair of the Auckland Howard League said.
Clark handed out certificates to six prisoners in an emotional ceremony watched by their family members and volunteer tutors.
The occasion was "very special", she said.
"Being literate is one of the most basic and important skills we can have... Being able to read is a fundamental for a better life."
One of her first memories was of her father reading her bed time stories and she has never lost a love of books, she said.
"To do the things I've done in life, you have to be able to read and you have to be able to read pretty fast and take it all in."
Charlotte* was one of the prisoners who received a certificate from Clark. English is not her first language and she was very shy before taking part in the course, she said.
"Originally I would just go to the one [prison] officer, the one I knew, because she speaks my language. Now I have the confidence to go to the other ones.
"I talk a lot more with the other prisoners inside now and I know I'm talking better."
She is now able to write letters to her mother overseas and has even written some poems, she said.
Charlotte's tutor Sarah Vokes said basic literacy is crucial for prisoners as they cannot take part in the prison's education programmes without it.
Charlotte's dedication to her studies "blows me away", she said.
Being a part of the programme has been a positive experience.
"You want to do something in our community and the reality is all these women are part of our community."
The Howard League is looking for more volunteer tutors.
Email email@example.com for more information.
*Note - Charlotte is not this prisoner's real name. All prisoners' names are changed as a requirement of the Corrections Act