by Marta Bausells)
"Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells." This was the main thrust of the letter that more than 80 prominent members of the British literary establishment sent to justice secretary Chris Grayling last month, expressing their disagreement with the newly enforced ban on family members and friends sending books to prisoners. The campaign against the measure continues to gain momentum, as was made clear again recently at the London Book Fair. At the invitation of English PEN and the Howard League, leading writers set out, in a set of postcards to be sent to Grayling, which books they would send prisoners and why. Here are some of the choices:
I would recommend Primo Levi’s If This is a Man. It is a masterly evocation of something much worse than prison: murderous enslavement for the crime of being born.
I’d send the Prison Trilogy by Pramoedya Ananta Toer – written in the head and remembered while on Buru prison island, but denied pen, paper and books.
Carol Ann Duffy:
I would send Jimmy Boyle’s visceral autobiography, A Sense of Freedom. It describes his journey from a violent, criminal youth to the degradation, shame and remorse he experienced in Scotland’s most draconian prisons – and the redemption eventually delivered by literature and art in the special unit at Barlinnie. It is a book everyone concerned with this current debate should read when the most wretched of our fellow citizens, who have nothing, are now being told they have less than nothing.
I would recommend giving prisoners Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. It’s a true account of a disastrous climb in the South American Andes in which the two climbers face terrible choices, hit rock bottom, facing death, yet manage to survive. I can imagine prisoners would find a lot to relate to in the story of finding a way up and out from the worst moment of your life.
The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad. Because it shows the danger and treachery and fear in English public life.
The Grass Arena by John Healy. It’s a long and brilliant postcard from hell. A brutal childhood, alcoholism, a London underworld – this is what it’s like to touch bottom, then find your way up through the game of chess.
50 Shades of Grayling – I presume the Lord Chancellor appreciates bondage.
My Books for Prisoners recommendation would be Rumi’s Masnavi, composed of six books of poetry.
The style is extraordinary, interwoven with stories within stories. The themes Rumi deals with (death, body, love, birth, beauty) are both universal and timeless. His peaceful voice speaks to our hearts and minds across all national and religious borders, and challenges head-on the teachings that promote bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination.
Which books would you send to someone in prison and why do you think your choice would help them? Share your thoughts in the comment thread below.
*Blogger's note: I would just like to share that my husband is a Senior Corrections Officer in a bad prison. One of the worst in my state. Inmate wise and crime wise. He said to anyone reading this, if you are going to send your books anywhere, send them to a hospital for example. He said there is a law library and a reading library in most prisons. However the inmates who are serious readers will have their family send books to them. The reading library, unfortunately, is used to discuss lovely things like when to bring drugs in and when to attack the guards. I am not telling you what to do it is just I am one of the few people who do not believe that prisoners can be rehabilitated and this is an example. I have heard a lot of prison stories in our 14 years together. They would make your head spin. I still now, would like you to comment on what book you would send to someone in prison. If not, now I would love to know what book you would send to someone in the hospital. You can comment below.