An avid bibliophile loves Clancy, Grisham, and Koontz

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"You are under arrest!"

Those words changed my life forever.
As a prisoner, I am deprived of many things I formerly took for granted: easy access to information, a plethora of entertainment options, and interaction with the outside world. Although I grew up as an avid bibliophile, the busyness and pressures of daily life, family responsibilities, running a successful business, and many other pressing matters quickly consumed my working hours. My reading time was limited to professional reading, although Grisham, Clancy, Koontz, and a few others often kept me company on cross-country flights. But my, how times have changed. I now have ample "time" while serving my "time". For me, and from what I observe from many I live and work with, books serve as an invaluable source of information, an opportunity to escape (legally, of course), and a wonderful source of inspiration.

The outside world is immersed in the information age. The technological explosion of the Internet, extending from home computers to cell phones and BlackBerry [devices], has quickly consumed our society. President Obama had to receive special dispensation to keep his BlackBerry. (Who was really going to tell him no!?) Of course, inside the prison walls, I sit on an island of isolation. Books become my information haven, a treasure trove for information and education.

While it may be cliche, it is also a truism: "Prison will make you bitter or better." I have chosen to invest my time to learn as much as I can. A few years ago, Congress cut off educational funding for inmates (presumably so they could bail out future felons at AIG, GM, and others). An inmate's information and education, therefore, becomes largely a do-it-yourself project. Books, some from the prison library, a few I am able to buy, and ones generously given from organizations such as the Prison Book Program, provide a life blood of information -- or my very own "Internet".

Every inmate, at one time or another, fantasizes about escape. An adventure, thriller, mystery, or even a horror story can provide the means to escape the often lonely, monotonous existence inside the gray walls and razor wire fences. My personal favorites are [written by] Koontz, Clancy, Grisham, and Lesocrat. Getting caught is a wonderful -- legal -- escape.

Stripped of worldly possessions, isolated, and often abandoned by family and friends, many men, as a last resort, turn to God. For some, their "jailhouse religion" lasts onto to the prison gates, but for many who sincerely seek the ultimate truth, faith in God becomes a source of peace, comfort, and even joy. For me, the Bible has become much more than an ancient holy book -- it has become alive. In many ways it is the ultimate library, containing stories of adventure, love friendship, war, inspiration, miracles, and hope. Moreover, by studying and following the precepts and principles contained in the pages of this treasure, what I once considered to be nothing more than a dead religion has instructed and inspired me to believe in hope and the future. I am eternally grateful.

Nothing can describe the sense of hopelessness and despair I encountered when I first came to prison. Books have become my lifeline and the foundation allowing me to recover, rehabilitate, and rebuild my life. The instruction, entertainment, and inspiration they bring provide home when I am hopeless, escape when I am entrapped, and a sure friend when it seems I am friendless. God bless those who taught me to read!

-Submitted by Gary W. Hardy
ASP Florence South, Arizona

How to be tough without breaking the law

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What kind of book has had an impact on me? Westerns. The reason? They show that you can still be a bad ass without being on the wrong side of the law. They also teach you what hardships really were back then, and how comparatively easy we/I have it now.

I would like to let young people out there who think it is impossible to get a job or go to school, and think that crime is easy, that they are wrong! Prison is impossible. Everything you do [outside of prison], you are not allowed to do in prison. Think about that! I wish I had. Now I'm only a number.

-Submitted by Charles Alienello
Martin Correctional Institute, Florida

Books give valuable skills

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Books have given me valuable skills. My ability to write, read, and communicate ideas has improved. I no longer struggle to express myself.

Further, books are an excellent educational tool. Many of us [inmates] are not high school graduates, and have low reading skills and struggle to comprehend our G.E.D. materials, so reading is a way to improve our comprehension in classes.


I have received carpentry books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus [from the Prison Book Program]. These books are great! I'm learning a new job skill I can use once I get out [of prison]. Plus, I have increased my vocabulary.

Many inmates here also request history or language books so that we can identify with our ancestral heritage. That may be German, Spanish, or other European countries. The language skills we learn from language books can also be put on a resume.

These books are a really big help. I know that they really help me and they are not just sitting in my locker. When I finish them I share them. So, if you can, please continue to send books to me and other inmates!

-Submitted by Kelly J. VanPatten
Deer Ridge Correctional Institute, Oregon