If you are one of the more than 140,000 incarcerated people serving time in a Texas state prison, there are 15,000 books to which you are not allowed access, according to Paul Wright of the Human Rights Defense Center. This list is said to be growing exponentially, and once a book goes on it, it never comes off. Book banning has been exercised by authorities to prevent inmates from gaining access to certain information that they deem inflammatory or that they dislike, for decades.
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Some of the bizarre items on the list include Freakanomics, a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a collection of Leonardo DaVinci’s sketches, which are banned due to sexual content. Also included are novels by Langston Hughes, Noam Chomsky, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie for their use of the “n-word”. Dante’s Inferno and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple are also forbidden.
But the most recently published book to be banned is Dan Slater’s Wolf Boys:Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel, the story of two Texan boys who become assassins for the infamous Zetas Drug Cartel, because of the details provided inside that describe the correct packing of narcotics into a vehicle for smuggling purposes, content that breeds the idea of ‘illegal scheming’. This book is non-fiction. Both teenagers are currently housed in Texas prisons.
An annual event called Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read and literature that has been targeted by censors, brought this news to light. You might wonder who is in charge of making these decisions and hand selecting these books. According to Paul Wright who is also an editor of Prison Legal News which has been fighting censorship behind bars for over 25 years:
In Texas, as in most states the judge and jury on a book’s fate is typically an anonymous mailroom clerk, who often don’t have high school diplomas. The bureaucratic system rubber stamps it from there.
Wright says federal prisons have even banned President Obama’s books. This paranoia stems from the inherent need to extinguish uncooperative behavior, which ‘apparently’ kicks off whilst reading the biographies of black leaders or about the inequities of our justice system.
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Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas prison system, said Slater’s book was banned because it violates the department’s rules about books that contain information regarding criminal schemes. It was banned from all Texas state prisoners before it was even published last month? It may be grim and violent, but it is a detailed and thoughtful look at American society and the war on drugs. Censoring books such as this strips an inmate of their constitutional rights and there have been countless lawsuits involving prison guards and inmates who were denied access to education.
Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Language Association’s office for Intellectual Freedom insists that “prisoners who read tend to behave better and rehabilitate sooner but prison officials care only about maintaining power and control. There is probably a new story every day like this [the banning of Wolf Boy.]
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It’s not hard to see why certain books could be banned — books about lock picking or bomb making, for example. But when you’re not allowed to read books by Bob Dole, Harriet Beecher Stowe or Sojourner Truth, but you’re more than welcome to dig into Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf or David Duke’s My Awakening, questions arise.
“Texas is less rational than other states,” says Michelle Dillon, program coordinator of the Seattle-based non-profit Books to Prisoners. Although it’s a national problem, it is particularly bad in more conservative states in the south.
You can get involved in forwarding books you no longer have use for to prisons all over the country through such charities as; NYC Books Through Bars. A full list of Book donating services is also available here for state specific charities.
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