Inside CDCR Video, Rehabilitation

Freedom Reads empowers incarcerated people

Nonprofit donates mini libraries to VSP, CCWF

The nonprofit Freedom Reads has partnered with CDCR to open Freedom Libraries at Valley State Prison (VSP) and Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).

A carefully curated, 500-book collection is now available at each institution. Books were placed in mini portable libraries in each of VSP’s 17 housing units and also made available to staff. CCWF opened five housing unit libraries

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

Freedom Reads founder shares his story

Reginald Dwayne Betts, a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate, founded the national nonprofit. Betts was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16. Freedom Libraries seek to create a place in prisons to encourage community and where reaching for a book can be as spontaneous as human curiosity.

“Far too often, the only thing that’s beautiful in a prison are the people,” Betts said. “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.”

Libraries enhance rehabilitation

Brandy Buenafe, Library Services Administrator for CDCR’s statewide system of libraries, 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.”

VSP and CCWF offer a host of rehabilitative programs, including Freedom Reads. It is part of CDCR’s commitment to providing opportunities for academic growth at all its institutions. Last year, VSP and CCWF began offering a bachelor’s degree program through Fresno State University.

“Valley State Prison’s goal is to empower the incarcerated population through literacy and education,” said Acting Warden Matt McVay. “Freedom Reads’ donation will be an invaluable addition to the rehabilitative and life-changing materials and programs available to those at VSP.”

About Freedom Reads

Betts’ nonprofit is a first-of-its-kind organization that empowers people through literature to imagine new possibilities for their lives. Hundreds of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers consulted on which books to choose.

The libraries include contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists. They sit alongside classic works from Homer’s The Odyssey to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. These titles remind us the book has long been a freedom project. Freedom Reads is working to put a Freedom Library within reach of every person incarcerated in this country.

Freedom Reads is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and inspired by the recognition that freedom begins with a book. The nonprofit supports the efforts of people in prison to transform their lives through increased access to books and writers.

Learn more about Freedom Reads and the Freedom Libraries project.

Story by Terri Hardi, CDCR Public Information Officer II
Video by Christopher Medina and Jeff Baur
Photos by Lt. Humberto Gastelum

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