The inmates themselves say they value the social aspect of books – the man who fought for a dictionary gets his wife to read the same books so that they have a common experience to discuss – but also they see books as a way of gaining access to themselves.
“I usually read non-fiction. The books we read in book club I wouldn’t necessarily pick up,” one older prisoner says. “But I am really glad I read them, and each and every one I have more insight into myself.”
“Feelings aren’t really popular around here,” explains the inmate who prefers reading over drugs. “[Reading provides] a kind of freedom that we can’t access at the point in our lives where we are and really taps into a bunch of emotions. Groups like this, little pockets of honesty, expression, are at a premium.”
Others say they read books simply to stay sane inside.
“This is heaven for me,” one enthusiastic newcomer to the group says. “It’s a place where I feel like a human being.”