Behind Bars

What three books would you bring to a deserted island?  Better yet, what three books would you take to jail?  That’s the question I’m struggling with this week.  I have grant money to buy books for my students.  I teach job skills to incarcerated adults then help them find work when they exit.  I’ve surveyed the students and other jails, and I still have room on the list.

Until I started this job, I had no idea how much inmates read.  For some, these are the first books they’ve ever read.  I can’t picture who I would be without books.  The reading level among my students vary.  I have some who are high-level readers, so I’m trying to have books for them, then I have lower-level readers who look for larger words and more white space.  It’s tough to find something for everyone.

Last year was my first at this job, and I learned that there are books in the pods (the units where they stay), but many have lost their covers and are missing pages.  Some of the inmates who don’t care about the books use them as weights.  When my students complained there wasn’t enough to read, I cleared off a bookshelf and carried it to my room, then pilfered books from around the school and our main office and bought some out of my own pocket or from my home.  I started a small lending library inside of my classroom. 

Most inmates in the jail don’t come to class, we don’t have enough room for them anyway, but most don’t want to come.  They can play basketball or gamble for muffins (no lie) or watch TV all day.  I’m trying to look for any benefits I can to encourage the students to keep showing up.  For many, my class is where they go to stay out of trouble.  Most of my students are in recovery. This may not be their first time locked up and don’t want to keep returning.  For the first timers, they don’t want a second round.  I’m trying to support that.  If books challenge the mind, or create a place to escape, or are a way to keep themselves occupied, I’m all for it.  I often wonder how many authors know they’re being discovered by people locked behind bars.

I’m writing this post because I need help.  Please offer ideas of authors or book titles I can add to the list.  Don’t worry if they’re not great literary works, those are wonderful, but I also need the best sellers.  My brother calls me a book snob, and he’s right; I don’t read books that appeal to a lot of my students.  So please offer any titles or authors in the comments section.

Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Behind Bars”

  1. Such an interesting topic. I can totally get your students needing books that will challenges their individual levels. While its true that there is no ideal book that will speak to all of the students, I can make a couple of suggestions: roger Zealand’s amber series and jrr Tolkien’s the lord of the rings. Both relie on the reader imagning a new world, and I know if I were incarcerated I would imagine a different world.

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