From APBP’s wonderful graduate intern SJ Stout–
Today, the women’s book club at Hazelton totally blew my mind. This week we discussed Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let me Go. Whether loving it or hating it, we all delved in…debating about characters, ethics, personhood, control, and freedom. The novel left many of us perplexed, and touched. In the central premise, a group of children find themselves as “lucky pawns” in a system that (literally) preys on their bodies. That is, the children are cared for and tended to, but ultimately sacrificed and used up without their consent. We wanted to know, is it better to be handled gently but ultimately manipulated and used? Or is it better to know clearly and without illusion one’s own servitude? We can be controlled by soothing indoctrination (propaganda) or by cruel force. Katy insisted, “There has to be a third door. In this book there is no third door.” To which, someone else replied, “That’s where the sadness is.”
We felt the sorrow. But I also think we left, committed to the third door.
I’m confined to a world behind four walls
Where no one can see me and I receive no calls
Often I sleep and awaken alarmed
Thinking that I may be harmed
Thank God it’s a dream as I come to my senses
Then look out the window and still see fences
I make it somehow throughout the whole day
Waiting for mail call, but none for me they say
Not a letter, a note, or even a card
With nobody out there time really seems hard
Just a word or two to say everything’s fine
A few small words to ease my mind
Kind words, well wishes, just knowing you’re there
Anything for me to show you care
You’ll never know how much your book means
Until you’ve been where I’ve been
And seen what I’ve seen
an APBP volunteer opened this letter the other day.
“I am writing you in hopes you can recommend me a book that will help me to turn my life around. I have never had a real job. I have been to prison 5 times now. I’ve done about 10 years all together. I keep doing the same thing expecting different results. I would like a book that will help me better myself.
“I do not have a job, house, car, place to live when I get out. I need a self-help book that will inspire me, better me, help me tune in and turn my life around. My mom is all I have left. I am 28 and my son does not know who I am. I need help to open my eyes. Can you find me a book I can read over and over and use it through out my life to change for the better. I read the bible some. I know there has to be a book for me. Something to make my mind stronger, smarter and teach me something. Please help me find this book. Thank you for your time.”
“Before I go any further with this letter, I would like to say what you all are doing for inmates throughout the United States is such a beautiful thing. Providing books help inmates pass our time in a positive and moral fashion. Thank you.”
We had a wonderful conversation at the women’s book club at Hazelton yesterday, prompted by Maxine Hong Kingston’s _The Woman Warrior_ . The discussion found its way into family, community, gender, hair, music, long-term sentencing, unthinking binaries or opposites, violence in prison, and the history of convict leasing and ongoing exploitative prison labor practices
A few of the women are really interested in reading both _Slavery by Another Name_ by Douglas Blackmon and _Worse than Slavery_ by David Oshinsky, so we will be bringing in a few copies of those next time we meet.
Kingston: “I learned to make my mind large as the universe is large so there is room for paradox.” There is paradox in trying to create liberating educational moments in a locked down space. But these women make it happen over & over.
We’ve been remiss about updating our blog, but rest assured APBP is going strong! We are nearing our 20,000th book mailed to people imprisoned in the Appalachian region, and we continue to facilitate two books inside a federal prison in WV.
The book clubs meet every other week in a women’s and men’s prison. Here are some of the books from the past couple years:
Octavia Butler, Kindred and Parable of the Sower
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent and In the Time of the Butterflies
Alex Kotlowicz, There Are No Children Here
Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”
Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
Edwidge Danticat, Farming of the Bones
Fred Chappelle, I am One of You Forever
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders
Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth
August Wilson, Two Trains Running
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Autobiography of Malcolm X
Lorraine Hansberry, Raisin in the Sun
(Be sure to check out our FB page, which tends to be more timely than our blog.)
On April 2-3, APBP welcomed students from James Madison Univ. for a weekend of service learning. The students opened letters, selected books, prepared books to be mailed, and discussed the importance of educational access to those who are imprisoned. They had a chance to visit the beautiful Aull Center and experience a lively volunteer training day. We are incredibly grateful for their generous spirit and energy. Many thanks to APBP Board Member Angie Iafrate who coordinated this special event. Another first for APBP!