“You get a chance to relive the book but through everyone else’s eyes. What makes this book club so interesting is people bring alive the points that you don’t even notice”.
Inspired by a participant in the CanadianContent Goodreads group who is volunteering in a Quebec prison book club, I chose to read The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley. This book is a memoir of a the author’s coming to terms with a traumatic mugging and being able to spend time sharing books with a group of men who were imprisoned for murder, robberies and other violent crimes.
The author’s friend Carol founded the register charity Book Clubs for inmates. She encouraged Ann to aid her development of the first 2 book clubs in federal prisons. This has led to the development of 26 book clubs in 17 penitentiaries across 7 provinces. The charity fundraises to provide thousands of books to hundreds of inmates with a goal of making meaningful changes and assisting with the reintegration of inmates into the community through literature, communication and sharing a love of books.
Ann had reservations when Carol invited her to become involved in the initial book club at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston. After her experience being choked to unconsciousness while living in an affluent area of London, England, it took courage and an open mind for Ann to participate. She grew by discussing literature with men who had criminal pasts. As they read and shared commentary related to the novels they were reading, Ann grew more comfortable with these men who were working towards a second chance.
It was interesting to contrast the same novels being read and discussed with the inmates with the experience reading and discussing with her own personal book club. The men had unique insight based on their own life experiences and shared bits of their past challenges. The women enjoyed desert and fine cheeses yet Ann shared that she appreciated her experience with the inmates. The two book clubs shared their thoughts through written comments delivered by Ann.
This book was an interesting memoir and provided perspective on the ability to learn and to change. It was inspiring to hear the impact that this program has had on individuals who were striving for a second chance. It is a quick read and highlights books that I have read including The Cellist of Sarajevo, The Old Man and the Sea, The Glass Castle and The Thirteenth Tale. Other than the author and Carol, names were changed to protect privacy but a few of the biographical details of the inmates sounded familiar from following the media. This was a unique memoir which provides a different perspective and shows the power of reading and sharing through books!
“The authors seem to be saying that anyone, in any circumstances, with some literacy, could find community, shelter, kindness and belonging through reading and discussing books”.