Alcatraz escape fundraiser for prisoner learners

7 May 2014

In the wake of public outrage at the Government’s rules preventing people from sending books to prisoners, 64 year old Martin Farrell, from Kingston, is preparing to swim across the icy, choppy and dangerous San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz Island this month to raise money for the charity PET.

Despite currently undergoing physiotherapy to heal his broken leg, on 22 May 2014, Martin plans to embark on the 1.5miles, rising to three miles or more in the bay’s strong currents of up to six knots.

Martin Farrell rolling up his sleeves

He was inspired to take on the difficult challenge having worked in the voluntary sector for more than 40 years, including running a project with young offenders helping to provide them with community alternatives to custody.

Martin said: “At a time when access to books is becoming increasingly restricted, I want to raise awareness of the importance of PET's work and fundraise for the courses, books and learning materials they provide in prisons across England and Wales.

“The extra challenge is that I came off my motorbike in February and broke my leg. But with the blessing of my consultant, a few pins, lots of physiotherapy and extra training I've been judged fit to swim 1.5 miles in icy water (13-15 degrees Celsius). The difficulty is, I’ll have to do it at a good enough speed to get me across the choppy currents and to the other side in time. But I love swimming. I love a challenge and I know that doing stuff for other people all helps the world go round.

“And what PET does is proven to rehabilitate people and reduce reoffending - that is good news for individual learners, prisons and society*. So please support PET, every penny will be spent wisely.”

Rod Clark, PET Chief Executive, said: “We are so impressed that Martin is taking on such a symbolic and challenging feat, especially given his recent accident and would like to thank him so much for his efforts to help people in prison.

“We are delighted at the public’s outpouring of support for the value of books and education in prison and we ask people to go that little bit further, and donate to help raise vital funds to enable prisoners get a real chance of changing their lives through learning.”

To donate visit Martin's JustGiving page

To find out more about why Martin is taking on this epic challenge listen to an interview with his local radio station via Radio Jackie.

About Alcatraz

This swim is popular in California among people keen to imitate the infamous escape depicted in the movie ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ starring Clint Eastwood. Alcatraz was famous for housing some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone, and its punitive approach. Like prisoners in England and Wales today, its inmates were only entitled to 12 study books in their cells. Though there was a prison library, inmates were never allowed to visit it, instead books were delivered through the bars of their cells.

Editor’s Notes

For interview requests with Martin or PET staff, ex-prisoners’ case studies, photos or further information please contact Susannah Henty, Media and Public Affairs Manager,; 020 8648 7760

*A recent report was carried out by the MoJ Justice Data Lab, published in January 2014 which shows people supported by PET to study distance learning courses in prison are a quarter less likely to reoffend than other ex-prisoners.

About PET

This year Prisoners' Education Trust (PET) celebrates its 25th anniversary. The charity was set up in HMP Wandsworth by a prison teacher and a barrister in 1989 who wanted to offer a wider range of courses to prisoners. That year, PET helped 12 people, now the charity supports approx. 2,000 each year to study distance learning courses across England and Wales. The charity does this by providing advice and funding for prisoners keen to study subjects and levels not generally available in prisons. PET also carries out research, informed by prisoner learners, to improve prison education.

In 2012 PET launched the Prisoner Learning Alliance to work together with 18 other expert organisations to champion learning for people in prison.