“Is it ok if I look at some of these books while we wait?” Those words are music to any teacher’s ears.
“Sure,” I said. I was busy grading papers, and it would only be a few minutes before the men went back to their dorm. The man who had asked about the books started talking about his favorite authors and titles.
“Do you know, I never read a book from beginning to end until I came to jail?”
That comment is what really made me want to expand the library at the jail.
You may never have thought of having access to books as a freedom. With the internet providing 24
hour access to information, we don’t hear much about book burnings these days.
Knowledge is power, and over the years books have had an undeniable influence history. Abraham Lincoln, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, is said to have commented, “So you’re the little lady who started this big war.” Her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave readers in 1852 a realistic and deeply disturbing picture of slavery. Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (and the film by the same name) similarly held a magnifying glass up to psychiatry practices in the 1960s, and indirectly led to reforms in the field.
Reading for pleasure can be just a powerful. Reading about another person’s experiences builds empathy and creates understanding. Anyone who has read Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum can understand better the complexities of life under Nazi rule in Germany in the 1930s, especially for women.
Rarely does one pick up a book because they want to change their minds, however. Most often we just want to read a good story. That’s certainly the case for the men and women in the Dearborn County jail.
And that’s what inspired East Central senior, Anna Kubitz to hold a book drive to re-stock the shelves of the library at the jail. With the help of her English Teacher Jennifer Tucker, Anna collected over 200 paperbacks from her fellow students and staff at East Central. Topics ranged from young adult dystopian fiction to fantasy, as well as non-fiction titles about attaining a pilot’s license or raising poultry.
As I sorted, marked and stacked the books on the shelves, the female students in my adult education independent study class browsed the donations. Once in a while a title stood out, and I held it up. With a stack of books in front of her, one student said “Stop! You’re killing me! I already have so many books!” Like kids in a candy shop, each book was a treat. They admired each book, commenting often on the quality. They took as many as they wanted, with promises to complete writing assignments for each book they read.
Now there are plenty of choices for those who want to escape the walls of the Dearborn County jail. Legally and literarily.