Stuart Miller has an article posted on The Guardian‘s website about Dan Slater’s book Wolf Boy being banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Review Committee, mostly on the basis of these words:
“Mario purchased pickup trucks from which he removed panels and lights. The trick was packing the drugs in a part of the vehicle where the body wouldn’t lose its hollow sound when slapped.”
Most advocates of free speech would argue that Slater’s book shouldn’t be banned from the prison library because most of those in prison already know this tactic for hiding drugs. What the advocates of free speech won’t countenance is the TDCJRC’s common-sense response: since the prisoners already know these things (they’ve already wrecked their lives because of that “knowledge”), there’s no reason for them to be reading such a book in the first place.
In reading Miller’s article, one might gain the distorted notion that there aren’t any books at all in Texas prisons, that nobody reads at all. Not so. There are books in such places, and prisoners, if they qualify, complete education programs every year (including a program that teaches them to read at a proficient level). I have often thought that one of the things I might do with my books when I pass away is donate them to a prison library. The people there can make good use of them.
The main thing a crime does, whether it takes away someone’s life or someone’s property, is take away that person’s hope–his or her hope to live peaceably, sweetly, and fully the life of the body, mind, and spirit. Society’s only civilized response has been to lock such criminals away so that they won’t hurt anyone else. But we do one other thing, too, pointedly and sometimes vindictively: in banning a book in a prison, particularly the kinds of books on Texas’s list, we are taking away the life of the prisoner’s mind–and thus, his hope–for a long, long time, just as he took away someone else’s. That’s part of the punishment for any crime. The loss of that hope is painful for any prisoner to endure, but the taking of it–at least for a time–is a far more humane practice than taking a criminal’s hand for a theft, or taking his life as an automatic response to a murder–the things we had done for hundreds of years before the modern era. There needs to be no apology for this approach, and Texas offers none.