by Tarah Hodgkinson
This week, one of my friends, and colleague, Jeffrey Bradley, came to give a guest lecture in my course on victimology. While he has a range of experiences with victim services, most notably, he spoke about his experience volunteering with Books 2 Prisoners.
Books 2 Prisoners (B2P) first started in Seattle in 1972. Since then, it has spread to parts of Canada, including Ottawa where my friend Jeff co-chairs their local chapter. B2P receives requests for books from prisoners, local volunteers source these books through donations and/or crowd-sourcing, and these books are mailed to the correctional facility. B2P is an important pathway to support literature in prison, as it is one of the only ways to provide books and much of the material that enters Canadian prisons are censored for revolutionary content.
One of the key messages I’m trying to drive home with my students is that victims and offenders are frequently the same people. As such, B2P is an important victim service, since many prisoners have suffered significant victimization and trauma in their own life.
The impact of books in prison is well documented. Reviews of the literature have found that most stated commitments to education in prison are severely lacking in practice and any access to educational materials is an improvement. In addition, literature contributes to prisoners’ well-being and sense of self in an unforgiving and oppressive system like prison. Chris Hedges’ new book The Class documents this impact in an accessible, engaging, and even heartbreaking way.
As we said in the last blog, Wild Horse Redemption, we cannot ignore the rehabilitation of offenders back into society as part of neighourhood building. Many of the neighbourhoods we work in have been devastated by legislation that punishes poor people of colour (think the War on Drugs) and contributes to mass incarceration. Children grow up without parents and siblings as these folks are imprisoned for minor possession charges or simply trying to survive in a community where all legitimate means of earning an income have disappeared.
A major part of the SafeGrowth movement is building local capacity. B2P provides those who are currently incarcerated with some of the necessary materials to improve their situation.
But that’s not enough since, as we said last week, eventually, almost all offenders end up back in society. Prisoners need better support for their mental and emotional well-being. They need healthy food and safe conditions. They need job training AND job opportunities when they leave prison. Most importantly, they need a system that doesn’t benefit from keeping them incarcerated through privatization and the equivalent of slave labour.
SafeGrowth is all about grassroots and community-led strategies for revolutionary change. B2P is just one example of these strategies, working to support one of our most marginalized populations.
SafeGrowth® is a philosophy and theory of neighborhood safety planning for 21st Century.