Travelling the World Through Books

For Danny, life in prison had been hard. The mind-numbing routine. The loss of freedom. Most of all, the sense of hopelessness. But after years behind bars, he has found a way to escape — through the prison book club. “We travel the world through books,” he says. “We’re not bragging about our crimes. We’re not running drugs. We’re doing something productive and useful.” In the book club, volunteers treat him like a colleague, not a con. He’s learning how to present his own ideas, how to listen respectfully to others with different perspectives. And when he feels himself starting to lose patience with another speaker, he’s learning how to manage those difficult feelings in a socially acceptable way. Finally, he is becoming confident about his future after prison.

Prison book clubs are sprouting up across Canada, the brainchild of the Reverend Dr. Carol Finlay, an Anglican priest, avid reader, and winner of Correctional Services Canada’s Charles Taylor Award for Volunteerism. Carol’s national network of volunteers lead 27 book clubs in federal prisons across the country. Once a month, they pass through many levels of security, leave their cell phones with the guards, and join the ten to eighteen inmates waiting for them in the meeting room. In Danny’s book club, one leader is a retired high school teacher; another is a PhD student in English. As the meeting begins, faces are bright and expectant, the group excited to be embarking on another adventure together.