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Book donation drive to boost prison library launched

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Anthony Bennett, grandson of Wilfred “Mose“ Allen, presents Renée Ming, the national security minister, with a photograph of his grandfather with the late Dame Lois Browne Evans and author Cyril Packwood (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Prison inmates will get the gift of literature from a new charity drive.

The fundraising scheme was organised by a diverse group of volunteers called the Personal Empowerment Circle, who pitched in four years ago to help to improve the lives of people in Westgate prison.

Keeva Joell-Benjamin, the Commissioner of Corrections, welcomed the move.

She said at the launch ceremony on Monday: “We might not seem like it because our persons are behind bars, but we are part of the community.

“Thanks you in advance for your donations to enhance our library facility.”

Glenn Fubler, of the group Imagine Bermuda, said the campaign was set up as a tribute to Wilfred “Mose” Allen.

Mr Allen was a founding member of the Progressive Labour Party and keen reader who served a jail sentence as a young man but turned his life around.

Anthony Bennett, Mr Allen’s grandson, said his grandfather was passionate about education.

Mr Bennett added: “He even rallied around to send many young Bermudians away to school and college.”

He said his grandfather had faced hostility because of his links to the PLP and trade unionism.

Mr Bennett added: “It was a struggle we had as a family, but we grew strong for it.”

He said Mr Allen was “one of the many, many unsung heroes in Bermuda”.

Anthony Bennett, grandson of the late Wilfred “Mose” Allen, talks about his grandfather’s passion for education (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Renée Ming, the national security minister, said the work of the Empowerment Circle would “not just educate our corrections population, but educate our people as well”.

Mr Fubler, a member of the volunteer group, said the campaign was based on “the concept of transformation in the prison system”.

Commissioner of Corrections Keeva Joell-Benjamin speaks at a celebration of Wilfred “Mose” Allen at City Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Kimberley Jackson, also a member of the group, is the programme manager for the Government’s Mirrors programme for at-risk young people.

Ms Jackson said being involved in the Personal Empowerment Circle was as rewarding for the volunteers as it was for inmates.

She added: “They enrich our lives as we enrich theirs.”

The group made monthly visits to the prison until the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Dominique Brown. a CedarBridge pupil, sings at the celebration of Wilfred “Mose” Allen to launch a donations drive bringing books to prison inmates (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Lynne Winfield, also a volunteer and the president of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda, said: "The power of stories, listened to with care and empathy, leads all circle participants to new awareness and growth in spirit.“

She added that self-reflection was “a powerful transformer”.

Ms Winfield said: “It is evident from our circle discussions that the men of Westgate have had months and years to reflect, regret and yearn for a new beginning.

"One subdued young man approached me after a circle and quietly asked whether it would be possible to meet with the family of his victim and have a restorative conference.

“His regret, sadness and struggle was etched in his face.”

Ms Winfield added: “Seeking forgiveness is the first step to healing self and others.”

Zarah Siddiqui, a Somersfield Academy pupil, reads the life story of Wilfred “Mose” Allen (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Malcolm Kirkland, one of the founders of the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, said: "The readiness to learn in the regular members is so evident, and good old-fashioned reading is clearly the best, individual method.

“When we check into the circle, we can simply use the book as a topic for discussion."

Membership of the circle also includes activists Tulani Bulford, Norbert Simmons, Sharon Swan and Cummings Zuill.

Mr Fubler said the public could donate cash for gift certificates at four bookstores — the Bermuda Bookstore, the Bookmart at Brown & Co and the Bermuda Griot, all in Hamilton — as well as Long Story Short in St George’s.

He added: “Volunteers along with staff at Westgate will decide what books are useful.”

The group gave Ms Ming a framed picture of Mr Allen with the late Dame Lois Browne Evans, a former leader of the PLP whom he mentored, and the late author and historian Cyril Packwood.

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Published February 23, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated February 23, 2022 at 7:41 am)

Book donation drive to boost prison library launched

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