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Seniors inspired to put books in prisoners’ hands

Seniors inspired to put books in prisoners’ hands
on Jul 28, 2021
Seniors inspired to put books in prisoners’ hands
One person’s favorite page-turner can be another’s treasure — especially if the book is a Western and the recipient is behind bars. That’s what residents of the upscale Buckhead senior living community Lenbrook have learned in the nearly two years that they’ve been dusting off and packing up books for delivery to the Georgia prison system. “Our motive is to help them succeed when they get out of prison and to make their time better in prison,” said Bernie Goldstein, retired CPA and chair of Lenbrook’s library committee.

He said the community of about 500 retirees was inspired to start making twice-yearly book donations to the prison system in December 2019. That’s when residents read an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis, showing a wide disparity in Georgia inmates’ access to books, with some state prison libraries averaging at least 10 books per inmate and others with less than four per person.

To a community of avid book readers, that just didn’t seem right. And so residents of Lenbrook began gathering books for the state’s prisons.

They dug into their own book collections and welcomed donations from soon-to-be residents who didn’t want to — or couldn’t — bring their own libraries with them. Organizers also threw in leftovers from the community’s semi-annual book sales.

They even culled out books from Lenbrook’s own impressive 4,000-book library and added them to the donation pile. Some were duplicates, and others were cleared out to make room for the five new books that Lenbrook’s library committee buys each month for the community.

Recently, the prison system dispatched a truck to Lenbrook to pick up the community’s latest contribution — 800 books.

A big thank-you followed.

“As usual, the variety of genres included in the donation was amazing,” Medeana Hinson, director of library services for the Georgia Department of Corrections, wrote Lenbrook residents. “As I unpacked and shelved the books in our donation center, I was excited to be able to fill many requests from our prison libraries. We were especially excited to find several Westerns — our most requested genre.”

Babette Rothschild, a Lenbrook resident who is in charge of the community’s library, said residents have been only too happy to make the book donations.

“We’re so glad we have someone who appreciates reading them,” Rothschild said. “There are really some wonderful books. We just have too many of them.”

Hinson said all of Georgia’s prisons have libraries, although the size varies with the size of the facility.

The prison system relies heavily on donations, mostly from individuals, to satisfy inmates’ desire for more reading material, she said.

The recent supply from Lenbrook was a “very large donation,” Hinson said.

The DOC has received other big donations on occasion and is in discussions with “Freedom Reads,” formerly the “Million Book Project,” about a potential partnership that could provide more opportunities and reading resources for inmates, she said.

For centuries, correction officials and researchers have touted the benefits of giving prisoners access to the written word. Not only does reading help improve an inmate’s vocabulary and literacy skills, but a 2012 Rand Corporation study found it helped to reduce the recidivism rate by as much as 40%.

The government of Brazil was so convinced of the potential impact of reading on inmates that it launched a program in 2012 called “Redemption through Reading” that allows inmates to shave four days off their sentence for every book read, up to a maximum of 48 days per year. The Italian region of Calabria adopted a similar policy in 2014.

Lenbrook’s Rothchild — an avid reader of biographies and historical novels — said she hopes Georgia prisoners will benefit from her community’s book donations.

“If they’re in a prison cell with nothing to do, it’s wonderful if they have a good book to read,” she said.

Source - The Atlanta Journal Constitution  

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