New York Prison Denies Access to Historic Black Literature

A prison in a New York county has denied a prisoner access to a classic American novel, alongside other book bans. Read on for more details.

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Featured Image with a bookshelf behind bars and a cop writing a ticket.

With how hot book banning has been these past few years, it’s no surprise to read about books being banned. However, you probably didn’t expect to hear about books being banned in prison. Sure, prisoners are in prison because they did something illegal and now they are doing the time for doing the crime. But being in prison is difficult, both on the mind and on the body. Reading a book is a harmless, safe, and positive way to rest the mind and relax after a hard day. Yet these prisoners are unable to read books they want, despite being full-grown adults.

Purpose of Banning

A man incarcerated at an Ulster County prison asked a books-to-prisons program to send him Black literature. Books Beyond Bars responded by sending a copy of Native Son, Richard Wright’s 1940 novel that explores the impact of racial discrimination, segregation, and violence against Black people in Jim Crow-era Chicago. The prison responded by intercepting the book.

Book cover of Native Son by Richard Wright which features a man in an orange shirt smoking a cigarette while looking out a window. His face and the window are both greyed out.
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP

The correctional facility responded to Books Beyond Bars by saying they blocked the book because it may:

…incite violence based on race, religion, sex, sexual preference, creed, or nationality.

via Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The classic novel, in which Bigger Thomas murders two women and receives the death penalty, is regularly taught in schools throughout the country. Unfortunately, book banning has been on a rampage lately for reasons such as race, gender, and even basic history. However, these bans are typically found in schools or public libraries where children can find and read them. In this case, an adult man was denied access to a classic novel because he is in prison and is treated as a threat.

Let People Read

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time a book was barred from entering a prison. Prisons regularly block access to books about the criminal justice system. The ban also extends to newspaper articles, web design manuals, medical reference guides, a Colorado State Vacation Guide, a book on how to read tarot cards, and a map of Afghanistan.

Barned wire around tall prison fence and watch tower.
IMAGE VIA CANVA

Courts defer to prison officials when it comes to book censorship, shrugging it off as a tool to maintain law and order behind bars. This reasoning seems nonsensical considering prisoners live in a concrete cell with constant monitoring. Not to mention the armed guards making sure they stay in line, the barbed wire around the fence, and the handcuffs that bind a person into submission.

Refusing prisoners access to simple things like books only makes them feel more like caged, freedomless, and dangerous animals, which isn’t the purpose of the prison system. Prisoners are there for a reason, and they certainly should do the time for whatever crime they committed. But it isn’t necessary to dehumanize them in the process. Not every prisoner is waiting to commit another crime. Some of them want to be reformed and changed to become a better person, which is difficult to do when you are denied access to educational books or simple books to escape reality.


Read more about book bans, here!

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FEATURED IMAGE VIA BRANDON SMITH / BOOKSTR