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Submitted 7:12 p.m.
09.30.2015
Letter to the Editor

Missing from your story is the context of how important reading is to prisoners--one inmate called it his "spark in the dark"--and the barriers they face to get the books they want and need. ”

Barbara Cornell of Washington, D.C.

Ha! Great story! But it wasn't surprising to the volunteers at DC Books to Prisons (bookstoprisons.org). We're a non-profit that sends books to prisoners across America who write us and request them. This year, we're on track to send more than 15,000 books and other reading materials.

Every week, we puzzle over whether to send comic-book cleavage or a western with a six-shooter on the cover. The other day I tore out half the pages in a book about the history of Western art. Even the naked baby Jesus has been summarily returned. Prisons also restrict the size of books, because big ones might be used as weapons. Many accept only paperbacks, because contraband can be hidden in a spine. And many reject books with pages warped by spilled liquids, because they might be impregnated with drugs.

Those restrictions are bracing reminders of the responsibilities prison officials face to keep their institutions safe. But as your story points out, they can seem mighty arbitrary at times. A prison official once gave me this guideline: "If their mama wouldn't read it, neither can they."

Missing from your story is the context of how important reading is to prisoners--one inmate called it his "spark in the dark"--and the barriers they face to get the books they want and need. That's the real story here. And trust me, it's nothing to laugh about.

 
This letter written in response to
Quiz September 30, 2015
Test yourself against the pros.