OpinionOpinion | The Search for Beauty in a Prison...

Opinion | The Search for Beauty in a Prison Cell


To decide on the books, I assumed again to nights I spent in a cell mesmerized by Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” or troubled by Toni Morrison’s “Paradise” or how “The Black Poets” turned me right into a poet. I talked to dozens of others and listened to their reminiscences of the books that stick with them. Of Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” one particular person stated, “I’ve learn unhappy tales and I’ve learn just a few extra unhappy tales but none so put-your-head-in-your-hands unhappy as ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener.’” As a result of I’m a generally unhappy lawyer, this made me choose it up and browse it many times after which put it on our cabinets.

The folks I see once I arrive with the books are mirrors of myself, be they youngsters at Rikers or graying males at a Colorado jail, or the ladies who remind me of my mom simply exterior of Chicago. Some have been incarcerated all these 17 years that I’ve been free and plenty of use literature to carve a spot for themselves and others on this world.

Just lately I walked into the Louisiana State Penitentiary with James Washington and Chris Spruill. They’d each accomplished time within the jail they referred to as “the Can.” James had discovered to work with wooden there, discovered to like shaping a tough block of it into one thing pretty. For the previous few months, he and Chris put that have into constructing the three libraries we had been bringing with us. After we walked into that dank place, males greeted them with dap and love. “James, what you doing again?” He was bringing magnificence.

In Louisiana’s Elayn Hunt Correctional Heart, an inmate named James Lavigne instructed us what it meant to him. “Let you know what, all people in right here reads. However normally what we find yourself studying is like city novels,” he stated. “That is precise literature.” On the shelf he discovered a Maya Angelou memoir. “I imply clearly this lady’s gone by means of experiences that the common particular person hasn’t,” he stated. “She’s been by means of issues that the majority of us won’t ever perceive. We’re truly capable of look into her soul by means of her work. Wonderful.” After which he moved on to Jonathan Lethem’s “Motherless Brooklyn.” “It’s a whole lot of enjoyable. I actually am impressed along with his fashion.” It’s certainly one of my favorites, too.

We name them freedom libraries to remind us of the urgency of all of it, and we carve the cabinets into curves to recommend a universe that bends towards justice. I don’t imagine {that a} guide alone will grant an individual wings, however the hope of all of it isn’t a fantasy. The hope is that somebody will flip a web page, and with the turning, remodel.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, lawyer and creator of Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate libraries and set up them in prisons throughout the nation.

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