Reed grad inspires prison reading program

By simply following her educational ambitions, Lisa Wierenga '99 never expected the positive ripples that her example has inspired. Yet for a student to graduate from college without the ability to read her assignments is a feat bound to be recognized. Wierenga, a 1999 graduate in English literature, is legally blind; she had to listen to her assignments on tape, which meant that getting through a book took her two to three times longer than a student with normal vision.

Troy Holman, a corrections officer at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute in Pendleton, became aware of Wierenga through a May 18 profile in the Oregonian. Holman, who supervises inmates who read books onto tape, decided to offer the service to Reed.

This will be especially help-ful to Adrienne Wolf-Lockett, assistant dean of student services, who coordinates all the reading for Reed's visually impaired students. Wierenga often listened to 150 to 200 pages per night; other Reed students also sometimes need to listen to books on tape. Wolf-Lockett says that the college can use as much help as possible to keep up with this demand.

Wolf-Lockett expressed some initial concern about using Holman's program, because the material can be fairly dense and esoteric. "But I was assured that they have some pretty sophisticated readers," she said.

Holman said that inmates need a high reading level and must read with interest, be expressive, and orient the listener to the page numbers, every unusual part of the material, and difficult spellings. It is not as simple as just reading the words. Inmate Clarence Morphis, Jr., said the tedium sometimes does take over: "It is then that I have to get out of myself and think of the person who needs the help. That helps give me renewed inspiration." Inmates read anywhere from three to six hours a day, generally going over the material in their cells first and then reading it onto tape.

Wierenga was ecstatic about the events since her graduation. "Finding new readers is a wonderful thing. It's always good to have a larger pool of people. I'm glad that came out of the article." She currently lives in San Francisco, where she will spend the next year working on publishing her poetry and short fiction. If all goes well, perhaps someone will be reading Wierenga's writing onto tape in the future.

By Nathan Brightbill

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