Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Bringing Prisoners to Book

If books had a resume, it would read something like this:

Carry within our pages the treasures of the world
Can inspire, educate and stimulate.
Have the power to take readers into brave new worlds
Can make time pass quickly or make time stand still with equal ease
Can make readers feel as if they have lived several lives at once
Can enable readers to visit places they have never been to before
Can enhance the decor of a room by our mere presence
Can protect readers from boredom and misery
Are time machines, teachers, guides and the most loyal friends

You would not expect to see 'Can shorten sentences' on that sheet.

The South American nation of Brazil is now attempting to update the above resume by enabling books and reading to do just that: shorten sentences.

Not the sentences that involve a Subject and a Predicate, and a caravan of clauses, nouns, adjectives and articles, getting acquainted and taking the momentous decision of allowing a Verb to unite them forever.

No, not those.

The sentences that Brazil is seeking to commute are those that begin with a conviction and end months, years or even decades later, when the heart has turned to stone, and the prisoner has seen enough desperation, misery and guilt to close him to human emotions and feelings forever.

The results of Brazil's radical new experiment, titled, Redemption through Reading (Remição pela Leitura, in Portuguese), could spell a revolutionary outcome for some of the most hardened criminals in the land.

The experiment allowed the convicts of four federal prisons, home to the most notorious criminals, an opportunity to cut down their sentences by a maximum of 48 days each year, just by reading up to 12 works of literature, philosophy, science or the classics. That equalled, four days off per book. 

Prisoners were given four weeks to read each book; they then had to write an essay on each book. According to a governmental release, the essay must, "make correct use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing." A special panel would decide who was eligible to participate with those known for good behaviour being strong contenders for selection.

Should the experiment succeed, the prisoners will leave the prison with their minds enlarged and enriched. They will also be able to hone the verbal and linguistic skills necessary to make a fresh start in the world outside the prison walls.

The convicts are notorious. But books are dangerous too. They have the ability to change your life in unfathomable ways. Books are tools that can help a reader build new worlds and lives. They are weapons that can wound.

Of course, there are some attributes that need to be a given, if this system is to work. The prisoners should have the ability to read, comprehend and write about the complex works of literature and philosophy and science that are going to be on the Reading List. Criminals who are school dropouts or even illiterate might object and protest that the system is horribly biased against them.

Already concerns have been raised about the more educated prisoners demanding hefty fees, to ghostwrite theses for their less-informed brothers. Or of inmates using threats, intimidation and physical and mental abuse to coerce others to write book reports for them. Strict supervision would be required to counter any misuse of the system.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian government, which has been the target of strident criticism, on account of its crowded prisons and consequent inhumane living conditions, is holding its breath, as it waits for the results of this move. In a prison scenario where cells with a capacity for holding eight men often end up holding six to seven times that number, Redemption through Reading may literally hold the key to opening prison doors.

If the experiment succeeds, the Brazilian government will let out a huge sigh of relief.

Hopefully, it will be the cue for other nations to take a page from its book.

Author Vera Nazarian once said, "Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light."

Enough said! 

Let there be light!

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)


  1. I read about that in the newspaper some days ago, initially I thought it is a nice initiative but there's a chance to take advantage of this thing too. I am not yet sure about if this is right or wrong decision. But yes, a good book can do wonders to a person's thinking and belief system.

  2. I agree. The initiative is plagued with difficulties. But the fact that they have introduced it is overall a good thing. At least they are admitting the power of a good book. Even if 10 per cent of those who participate in this initiative benefit from it, it will still be a success.
    Thank you for dropping by, Shilpa.

  3. What a great idea. This is true understanding. Books can certainly change lives. Maybe some of the less educated prisoners will try to read. Of course, there are always thos who take advantage of their circumstances. It's up to the prison authorities to take charge. Good luck to them. Visiting from UBC.

  4. Hi, Francene, Books are indeed very powerful in their ability to transform lives. I hope the effort succeeds.

  5. Very interesting article

  6. This is an interesting approach to a very real problem of prison overcrowding. I think the selection of books need to be narrowed and only titles that could make some impact internally should count. Perhaps instilling some empathy in a white supremacist by having them read To Kill A Mockingbird? You get the idea. There must be more to this than is being reported, but who knows, it may make an impact. Very interesting post!

  7. Cynthia!! I am so glad you are a part of UBC, feels great to have you in this challenge. You willsee a lot of me popping here now :D

    The post you have written seems like a great initiative, perhaps this can be another analogy for the story "the bet" At least I felt like that....


  8. Wow, that's a unique and nice reformatory process. I really liked your post.

    Good luck with UBC girl....I am not in this time...but you go...and I will keep following your posts :)


  9. this initiative actlly is good ! I remembered shawshank redemption :) A good book can sure do wonders.
    An informative post
    good luck for UBC

  10. Well said Cynthia. :) Best of Luck for the UBC. I am taking part too. :)

  11. Such a wonderful, thoughtful venture! I do hope it is a success!

  12. Booka are almost always friends to us , but a lot depends on what we imbibe from them.
    At least, the initiative is the first step. Let's hope it benefits many !
    Nice read, that was :)
    Cheers !



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