ABC Literacy

The ABC Literacy Prison Experience

We, in America, have a problem. Too many of the adults (60-80%) who spend time in our prisons read below a third grade level. ABC Literacy Resources, a non-profit organization of volunteers, decided to deal with this challenge in reading. Four years ago, reading and learning specialists formed ABC literacy Resources with the purpose of providing in-service training and support to an inmate tutorial reading program at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ. This inmate run program known as L.I.F.E. (Learning Is For Everyone) was started seventeen years ago and currently there are over 45 inmate tutors who work with approximately 50 inmate students who have reading deficits. For many students, their progress was slow and their tutors were concerned as to why. ABC Literacy volunteers set up workshops and one-on-one tutorials to teach and train the tutors to recognize possible learning disabilities and to use specific strategies, techniques, and programs to meet the challenges of these adults with learning differences.

“In my personal experience I was diagnosed as a ‘bad apple, a troublemaker, a rebel who was purposely trying NOT to learn,’ when, in fact, I could not read. With all this negative flack fixing on a young, impressionable kid, pretty soon I started believing it! But, in actuality, with the right help, we (dyslexics) can be successful readers.”
&ndash Inmate student

The inmate tutors received training in multi-sensory approaches using Orton-Gillingham based programs such as the Barton Reading and Spelling Program (see the Barton Reading Web site). ABC Literacy Resources volunteers provided additional experiences for the tutors in course offerings which included the following: strategies for teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), writing workshops, literature reading and discussion groups, poetry reading and writing, problem solving and critical thinking, as well as, training in management and leadership skills. A graded reading library of 75 books has been started and will continue to increase with community donations.

“During the first training class of this program, I walked away with more patience and understanding of students than I had ever had. Not only that, I also learned how to better prepare myself to observe certain behavior and problems and adjust my teaching accordingly.”
&ndash Tutor

ABC Prison Literacy is a program of ABC Literacy Resources. We have an expanding membership of more than 30 volunteers drawn from six churches and the community at large in the greater Princeton/Trenton area of NJ. ABC Literacy is committed to raising awareness for the increased need of education, literacy and rehabilative services within correctional institutions. We advocate that the illiterate deserve to be educated; especially, those with learning differences who deserve more effective reading instruction to meet their special needs.

ABC Literacy welcomes your interest and desire to learn more about our prison literacy initiative. Please email us at

Do volunteers make a difference? See what an inmate at NJ State Prison wrote:

Let Them Know
Let somebody know you care,
Take the time to listen to
What they want so much to tell you.
For the gentle folks are few.

You are not so high and mighty,
That you cannot spare a smile.
For you never know when you might
Need somebody after awhile.

Let somebody know they matter,
Do not turn and look away.
You will someday have to answer,
For the things you do today.

Never be in such a hurry,
That you have no time to do
A kindly deed, else someday God
…Might not have time for you!

ABC Literacy Resource volunteers that have taught classes for inmate tutors often describe an uplifting experience. They find their students eager to learn and appreciative for the class opportunity.

“We were profoundly impressed with the responses to the Learning Disabilities training sessions we presented to over 50 inmates at the N.J. State Prison. These are among the best students we have ever taught.”
&ndash Teacher Trainer