Through Boston Cares, I’ve been volunteering at the Prison Book Program for the past year or two. Because education and reading are so important to me, I find it very meaningful to do something to help a prisoner trying to educate him- or herself.
Yesterday was the Boston Book Festival, and I volunteered during most of the day. But I was able to make it to a panel about reading’s effect on prisoners. The panelists were two former prisoners, two co-founders of a program called Changing Lives Through Literature, and a person who runs a book group in a Concord prison. It was great to hear firsthand from the former prisoners about how books changed their lives for the better. They talked about how important the Prison Book Program is, as prison libraries are paltry at best. Prisoners often have books confiscated (they aren’t allowed to receive books from family and friends…books have to come through retailers). Also, many subjects such as African American history are deemed “subversive.” And instead of focusing on education and therapy in prisons, officials focus tend to put all the money into increasing security measures instead. As one prisoner said, prisoners are supposed to be “rehabilitated” in prison…but the last thing they need is to go back to the same life they led. They need to be “habilitated,” educated and helped with psychological issues, first.
The book group leader and organization co-founders talked about the changes they had seen in prisoners who engage in book discussions: how they become more of a community and how they become more confident and learn more about the world and themselves. The discussion left me feeling even happier to be involved with the Prison Book Program.