The libraries, the brainchild of 2021 MacArthur Fellow Reginald Dwayne Betts who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, seeks to create a space in prisons to encourage the full realization of self and the exploration of new possibilities. These will supplement the prisons’ existing libraries by providing 24-hour access to hundreds of books in portable libraries set up within the dorms at the two prisons. Betts’s nonprofit aims to build 1,000 Freedom Libraries in prisons across America. Books in the Freedom Library have been carefully curated through consultations with thousands of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers, resulting in a collection of books that are not only beloved, but indispensable. The libraries include contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists alongside classic works from Homer’s The Odyssey to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, that remind us the book has long been a freedom project.
“The Louisiana Department of Corrections shares our goal of creating opportunities for daily engagement with literature inside their facilities, and we are grateful for the quickness with which the agency’s leadership embraced this partnership,” said Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder and Director of Freedom Reads. “With the opening of two Freedom Libraries in Louisiana State Penitentiary and Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, we have a chance to contribute to another chapter in the history of incarceration here in the South – one that is about mercy, hope, and creating opportunity for self-reinvention inside. I know firsthand how literature empowers us to confront what prison does to the spirit, and that inspiration in the form of reading and writing is a gateway to a new future for those inside prison and a way for those outside to get beyond the dehumanizing stereotypes of those of us who have served time.”
“I had the opportunity to see Dwayne at a conference not too long ago, and I was so impressed with his presentation and the work he is doing with Freedom Reads,” said Secretary Jimmy Le Blanc, Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. “We are excited about expanding reading opportunities and 24-hour accessibility to the portable libraries in the dorms. This donation means so much to our prisoners as it will help broaden their horizons through reading. We’re hopeful this will help improve the educational level of those who take advantage of this gift.”