Prisons are apparently following the same trend as schools. In this time of economic recession and financial cut-backs, prison and education systems across the globe are facing the same issue. Both need to expand with an expanding population, and both need to respond to changes in their respective industries. Best-selling author Neil Gaiman (of books such as Coraline and Stardust) gave thoughtful and well-timed answers to these problems in his lecture for the Reading Agency, an edited version of which was printed in the Guardian (19/10/13) in an article called 'Face facts: we need fiction'.
Gaiman argues that although you can't state that a literate society has no criminality, there are real correlations between illiteracy and the prison population. You could say brashly that 'fiction is read by literate people and literate people are less likely to commit crime'. The author describes the way fiction works in the lives of its readers in a positive way. Firstly, fiction is a gateway to reading. Once you start reading fiction you climb on a rollercoaster that you never want to end. Fiction is a gateway to literacy and knowledge.
Second and most importantly fiction builds empathy. Through its characters and plots fiction builds in its readers an ability to understand and imagine different circumstances, and to help them imagine a different world. In Gaiman's words 'it is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different'. Fiction largely helps this. So next time you wonder what the point of a library is, or why an individual might not read, try imagining the boundless possibilities of the power of reading. You are, in a way, already experiencing it.
Carpe Diem xx