COLUMN: You can’t incarcerate a mind

Having the right to read is crucial in a prison environment

Freedom to Read week is held annually as a way for us Canadians to celebrate our right to intellectual freedom.

It is common during this week for us to highlight previously banned or challenged books and the reasoning behind the ban or challenge.

As Canadians, we believe that these works need to be protected because our citizens have the right to decide for themselves what they choose to read or not read.

This year, I wanted to focus on a different aspect of intellectual freedom, a prisoner’s right to read.

When someone is incarcerated, they relinquish many of their rights and freedoms. A prisoner may not be able to come and go as they please, but they are still entitled to their guaranteed Charter rights which include the freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression.

Having the right to read is crucial in a prison environment as it provides a small, albeit important connection to the outside world.

Access to reading materials provides opportunities to strengthen literacy skills.

The more literate inmates become, the likelihood of them taking high school or college courses rises, their prospects outside of prison improve and the probability of returning to prison decreases.

Reading brings people hope.

Former inmates have gone on record to say which books changed their life while incarcerated. Many of these books are inspirational, with protagonists that go through some of the most horrific things imaginable and in the end, they come out stronger than ever.

These types of stories provide the reader with courage and determination that they can make things better.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is this type of book. It is a real-life account of life in the notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz and depicts how the author chose to bring the best out of the situation.

In an article titled The Book that Changed my life…in Prison, by Daniel A. Gross for The Guardian, a current inmate is quoted saying that Man’s Search for Meaning gave him the ability to endure anything and the belief that there is a possibility that some good can come from the pain and suffering that people go through.

Literacy and the intellectual freedom are important rights that must be protected for everyone, no matter their walk of life. For more information, make a stop at the library to check out our display of books that have been noted as impactful to a prisoner or that describe the impact of books and reading for those who are incarcerated.

Included in this display is The Maximum Security Book Club by Mikita Brottman; a true story of a professor of literature and her experience moderating a book club at a men’s correctional institution in the US.

Breaking the law is a serious matter and the loss of certain rights and privileges is warranted. But the mind is something you just can’t incarcerate.

Kayley Robb is an Assistant Community Librarian at the Summerland Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library and the views and opinions expressed in this writing are her own.

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