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The inmate, aged in his 50s, took top prize in the New Chapters initiative for his vivid description of West Coast nautical tragedy in Tuna Madness.
At a ceremony at the Otago Corrections Facility yesterday, he was presented with a selection of books, supplied by the University Book Shop, and strangled his emotions as he thanked prison staff who had backed him during his years behind bars.
''Thank you ... for showing me how to learn again,'' he said.
''Your belief changed my life.''
It was a similar story for the author of the elegant and heartfelt poem The Plover, whose work won the people's choice award voted for by ODT readers.
''Everything is here for the taking for prisoners who want to grab it,'' he said.
The man, in his 20s, noted the first time he had appeared in the newspaper was under less auspicious circumstances.
''I managed to see the beauty of something as simple as a plover out of my window,'' he said.
''It means a lot to get this vote and it was a personal poem, so it's cool to see it win.''
Both men had come through the prison's foundation skills courses, Corrections interventions co-ordinator Andrea Grant said.
The initiative had allowed prisoners to show off previously hidden talents.
''I had no idea that some of the guys were so creative and such deep thinkers,'' she said.
''I was surprised by the depth of some of the stories and how creative they were. They were a pleasure to read in the end.''
The UBS also donated a box of books to the prison's library on behalf of the winners.
Eager readers were already rifling through them when yesterday's formalities ended.
- Read an extended question-and-answer session and find out more about the winners in this weekend's ODT