Prisoner Book Survey & the UK Ban on Mailing Books to Prisoners

Recently the United Kingdom banned the mailing of books to prisoners from the outside in an effort to cut down on the “perks and privileges” available to them.  In a protest organized by English PEN and The Howard League for Penal Reform, British authors have sent the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, protest postcards with the name of the book they would most like to send to a prisoner – if they still could.

We thought we would contribute some of our own “favorite books” and what they mean — except these are prisoners’ favorite books.  These are the results of a survey that asked prisoners about books and the role they play in their lives. Their responses show that books are far from a perk or a privilege.

We asked:

  • How have books affected you?
  • Do you have any specific learning goals?  Please describe.
  • Besides major religious texts (Bible, Koran, etc.), what is your favorite book?

Here’s what the first 36 respondents had to say…

How have books affected you?

  • They have keep my mind active, and reinforced how to use and spell many words.
  • Give me hope, knowledge, teach me to draw.
  • Has taught me patience and to be at peace
  • They help me to escape, and learn of many cultures and how people live around the globe
  • Words cannot describe
  • Books made me flexible and gave me the ability to accept other people’s opinions
  • Before prison I only read the local newspaper. Now I am reading novels
  • Opened up my understanding of others.
  • They have opened my mind to the diverse and wonderful possibilities of the world. I look at my life in grander terms, I question the way of everything and I pause to read in the beauty of my own experience as I read a book.
  • Made me wise to our present court system
  • I retain everything that I read. I’m like a sponge.
  • Positively. I used to hate reading. But about a year ago while in the hole at my last jail, I picked up a book called The Hobo by Nels Anderson. It was about the sociology of the Homeless Man and that just sparked my learning need.
  • Opened my mind to differences between peoples perspectives on life.
  • Books affect my life in a unique way, that’s why I read positive, uplifting things. Books are like music, very influential.
  • A great deal. I have learned a lot. So ultimately they have contributed a great deal to my future. And it frees my mind.
  • I have a few ideas of what I want to do career-wise when I get out.
  • Keep my hope and imagination alive. Help me write my own book
  • Opened up my horizons (both fiction and non-fiction), allowed me to learn/teach myself skills I may not otherwise have learned.
  • All depends on what book I’m reading.
  • Books are my escape from this third world country that they call prison
  • Make time pass
  • They have helped me with my reading comprehension, my writing skills, my vocabulary, and my imagination.
  • I gain knowledge from reading
  • I’m more knowledgeable about the subject.
  • They have made me happy and hopeful
  • Well this is a hard question, because some in good ways and others in bad ways, to the point that my point of view is not the same or believes, . and some book make me weep and some happy.
  • They have created a hunger for knowledge
  • Made me stronger in the Lord
  • With the exception of hands-on apprenticeship-style learning, they are the best way to have one-on-one time with authorities in any field.
  • They have introduced me to concepts and ideas that changed my view of the universe.
  • Unlike folks who watch “reality TV” I live ‘reality.’ Books strengthen my knowledge in religion, science, and provide escape.
  • Trite expression, but they have expanded my world. Have loved and read books since my youth. I abhor ignorance. Books give everyone a chance to learn, if they so desire.

Do you have any specific learning goals? Please describe.

  • I wish I had the ability to learn Spanish or Italian
  • I want to have an Associate Degree by the time I leave prison
  • To learn a trade while I’m here, like maintenance, drafting, or electronics
  • To continue to educate myself
  • Yoga, the origin of words of the English language, symbolism
  • To have my own company, to learn more about the psychic field, the anatomy of the mind and body, and learning about the sovereign and strawman
  • After prison I would like to go to cooking school
  • Messianic Judaism. All I can know of our creation and heavenly father.
  • I want to become well-read in the subjects of politics, philosophy, world history, and eventually I want to write something of my own someday
  • Studying law, especially civil litigation
  • Heritage / culture of my ancestors. Political science and the workings of our government. Criminal and civil law as well as anything that has to do with the Universal Commercial Code.
  • Legal, Psychology
  • I wish to learn how to become a small business owner and a dog trainer and breeder
  • Small engine repair and spirituality. I want to learn small engine repair because I enjoy working with tools and tinkering with lawnmowers, etc. I think it would be beneficial for me when I get out, and my spirituality is important.
  • Political and social issues, so I can be an informed voter. Health issues so I can get more years. Career info.
  • Keep up-to-date in computer skills
  • Becoming a polyglot, starting with Japanese, learning to manage a retail store, understanding less mechanical/technical ways of life.
  • Welding, women, boxing, tennis, basketball, football, women
  • Learning all I can about my Father and his kingdom, first. Then I am an outdoorsman, so I love to learn about fishing also.
  • I wanna learn more about where we (humans) come from, I wanna know more about ancient civilizations, in order to move on to the future we must know where we came from.
  • I just want to learn as much as possible.
  • Physical therapy and massage therapy. I’m tired doing time in prison. I will be a professional therapist when I get out.
  • Anthropology, Sociology, 99% unification
  • I would like to learn if human being are the only living creatures in this galaxy, how many galaxies are out there, if the world powers (governments) and scientists are keeping it a secret from us or if there is a God who created every thing ?!?!?
  • I want to learn how to run a successful business, learn multiple languages, and gain spiritual insight
  • I would like to become the best possible artist I can be. However, I would also like to be an inspiration to my nephew as he grows up by offering information that may not be in his textbooks. Giving him free thought, new perspective, and an open mind.
  • To learn to understand myself and other people. To make some sense of life or to be able to appear smart to my children.
  • To remember the ‘salient’ points of what I read/study
  • To be an author–to share with others my insights and experiences in the form of experiential fiction–novels to inform as well as entertain the readers.
  • My goals with regard to learning are to stay abreast of the ever-changing tech-world. I am a certified computer service technician, so I have to stay diligent as the technology sweeps by. I am also interested in history and language.

Besides major religious texts (Bible, Koran, etc.), What is your favorite book?*

  •  Books by Dean Koontz – Because their books always take you on a great adventure
  • A New Slant on Life – L. Ron Hubbard – It has helped me more than I can say
  • Terry Goodkind – I like reading truth written in fiction
  • Swiss Family Robinson – There is trials, repentance, forgiveness, family love, fellowship, etc.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I feel like the book speaks to some part of me I can’t explain, like Steinbeck wrote the answer to a question that I never knew I asked.
  • Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual – Taught me my civil rights while in prison
  • Books by or about Malcolm X – Even though he hated whites, he was a strong, organized, revolutionary man and he understood that in life you have to deal the cards the same way to the white people who deal them to you and you have to stand up for your beliefs while doing it.
  • Pawns in the Game, by William Guy Carr – Because it tells history without a spin
  • The Purposeful Primitive, by Marty Gallagher – It informed me on the basics of an exercise regimen
  • Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, Lee Hamonds, Art Books – Trying to learn how to draw
  • Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon – I like the characters and the relative history
  • A Land Remembered, Patrick D. Smith – It’s a story about a family living in Florida in the mid-1800s, it has adventure, love, and tragedy. I think it’s fascinating to learn how harsh life could be in those times.
  • Biography Father Hesburgh (Notre Dame)
  • A Million Little Pieces, Mind is the Master Wheel of time
  • Martyr’s Crossing, Amy Wilentz – Is my favorite because as a Muslim person I have love for the Jews and lot of Jews and Muslim people are blinded by the real enemy which are the politicians and the media for their own power and they use religion to control.
  • Tao Te Ching – Because it gives you simple sayings with deep spiritual meanings that cause you to meditate on them to understand them to a fuller extent
  • The Prayers of Charles R. Swindoll, Volumes 1 & 2, Drawing portraits from Photographs, by Lee Hammond – It took my abilities far beyond what I thought possible
  • A history textbook by Jeff Judd – The flow of the book
  • Foundation series by Isaac Asimov – Optimistic possible future
  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand – More truth in that one book than in any other that I have read
  • The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton – It was the first book I read and it was just emotional, thought-provoking, and interesting. I thought if books are good like this, then maybe I should read more and I’ve been reading ever since.
  • Books by Zacaria Sitchin – Because their books always take you on a great adventure
  • Warren Murphy, the Destroyer – I like reading truth written in fiction
  • Geis of the Gargoyle, Piers Anthony, Game of Thrones, Star Trek Series – Optimistic possible future
  • Kahlil Gibran – Because of the wisdom they impart. Other than that, I have many favorite authors–an eclectic reader. My only requisite being that they inform and entertain me with their stories. Although I am not averse to history, anthropology, New Age, etc., readings.

* In a previous survey, we asked “What is your favorite book?” and approximately 80% of respondents answered with the Bible, Koran, etc.   This time around we excluded major religious texts because we wanted to know what else was important to prisoners.