A most interesting article on how important book clubs can be. I’ve always thought a prison library is a far more valuable resource than a prison gymnasium, and generations of prisoners, from John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe to Malcolm X, would probably agree. The real story here, I think, is between the lines. What the prisoners most needed is what the book group offered: a chance to connect with others, a chance to be in the world, an opportunity to play around and express other sides of their personalities–the kind of experimentation many of us take for granted, but an experiment often denied those who are trapped in the projects and fall in with gangs.
Reading alone won’t help everyone, and book clubs can be no more than a local solution for a specific set of people. Violent offenders need to stay right where they are until their terms are up. But even violent offenders in prison have exercised the power of choice, just as we have. We ought to take every opportunity we have to show them–through education and through work– that there are many choices available to them, not just choices that inevitably lead to poverty and crime. Such choices are damnably hard in the outside world when carrying a criminal record, but they are not impossible to make; nor is it impossible for the ex-convict to lead the challenging life of daily choice that the rest of us have learned to bear. I have known such men who’ve turned their lives around. I taught them in my night classes; they work on the floor of my factory’s shop. The fact that they found within themselves the strength to do so was surprising to them, as was the willingness of others–teachers and employers–to help them when they showed what they could do.