On Oct. 12, 2022, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the national non-profit Freedom Reads announced the opening of five Freedom Libraries at Logan Correctional Center (Logan CC) in central Illinois. The libraries, located across two of Logan CC’s housing units, are dedicated for use by the facilities’ individuals in custody. The opening of these libraries marks the first opening of a Freedom Library in a women’s correctional facility.
The libraries, the brainchild of 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, are spaces in prisons to encourage the full realization of self. The libraries are handcrafted out of wood and curved to contrast the straight lines and bars of prisons to evoke Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote on the “arc of the universe” bending “toward justice.” Centering beauty and dignity, the Freedom Libraries seek to create a space in prisons to encourage community and the exploration of new possibilities.
In conjunction with the opening of the Freedom Libraries, Betts will perform his show Felon: An American Washi Tale for an audience at Logan CC. Based on Betts’ poetry collection Felon, the show explores the lingering consequences of having a criminal record, fatherhood, the power of literature, and love. Logan CC became a participating member of Freedom Reads’ Book Circles initiative in April 2021, a program that delivers sets of a single title to participating prisons from Connecticut to California. Logan CC is one of several IDOC facilities participating in the program. Others include Lincoln Correctional Center, Murphysboro Life Skills Re-Entry Center, Big Muddy River Correctional Center, and Danville Correctional Center.
Freedom Reads is a first-of-its-kind organization that empowers people through literature to imagine new possibilities for their lives. Books in the Freedom Library are carefully curated through consultations with hundreds of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers, resulting in a collection of books that are not only beloved but indispensable. The libraries include contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists alongside classic works from Homer’s The Odyssey to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which remind us the book has long been a freedom project. Freedom Reads is working to put a Freedom Library within reach of every person incarcerated in the country.
“IDOC is excited to welcome Reginald Dwayne Betts and Freedom Reads for a performance at Logan Correctional Facility as we announce the opening of its five Freedom Libraries,” said Director Rob Jeffreys, Illinois Department of Corrections. “Research is clear – expanding library and information opportunities for individuals in custody correlates to more successful community reentry. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Freedom Reads to provide even more literature access to individuals in our facilities across Illinois.”
“With the opening of these Freedom Libraries in Logan Correctional Center, we hope to remind of a key principle of this life: To read is to remember a little bit more of who we are,” said Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder and Executive Director of Freedom Reads. “We are grateful that the Illinois Department of Corrections shares our goal of creating opportunities for daily engagement with literature inside their facilities and a space in prison for books, inquiry, imagination, and community.”
About Freedom Reads
Founded by Reginald Dwayne Betts, who knows firsthand the dispiriting forces of prison, Freedom Reads works to empower people through literature to confront what prison does to the spirit. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and inspired by the recognition that freedom begins with a book, Freedom Reads supports the efforts of people in prison to transform their lives through increased access to books and writers. For more information about Freedom Reads and the Freedom Libraries project, visit https://freedomreads.org/.