Freedom Libraries empower prison residents

A prison library with curved shelves.
A Freedom Library in a New York correctional facility. (Photo by Freedom Reads.)

The national non-profit Freedom Reads and CDCR partnered to open Freedom Libraries at two prisons.

(Learn more about Freedom Reads.)

A curated, 500-book collection will be available at Valley State Prison (VSP) and Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla. Books will be placed in mini portable libraries in each of VSP’s 17 housing units. The books are also made available to staff. CCWF will open five housing unit libraries

Each bookshelf is handcrafted out of maple, walnut or cherry, curving to contrast the straight lines and bars of prisons. The curves also evoke Martin Luther King Jr.’s line about the “arc of the universe” bending “toward justice.”

Founded in 2021 by MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, the libraries seek to create a space in prisons to encourage community.

“Far too often, the only thing that’s beautiful in a prison are the people,” said Betts, Founder and Executive Director of Freedom Reads. “With the opening of these libraries in VSP and CCWF we are bringing beauty, bringing books and bringing people inside to have the kinds of conversations we believe could help transform the lives of those incarcerated. We are thankful to share our goal of creating opportunities for daily engagement with literature inside their facilities.”

Brandy Buenafe, Library Services Administrator for CDCR, said she’s eager to see the new books circulating at the institutions.

“Reading is a step toward rehabilitation, and can create deep personal change in anyone who embraces it. Books and knowledge are irreplaceable and can lead to successful outcomes,” Buenafe said. “We would like to thank Freedom Reads and Dwayne Betts for bringing these libraries to our prisons, and offering the gift to our incarcerated population that comes with reading.”

Read more in the press release.

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