After years of trying to figure out how to get in and do it, last week I finally held my first book group discussion at the jail.
Thirteen inmates showed up, and nearly all of them had read the book. I had given them several options, and they voted to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which is told from the point of view of an autistic teenage boy named Christopher. I read the book several years ago and had forgotten many of the details, which I saw differently as I read the book again over the holidays. I wondered, for example, how the inmates would relate to Christopher's unrelenting phobia of communal bathroom facilities.
I put the book on the list of possibilities because of some of the themes it explores and that we talk about in the transition skills class I teach: seeing the world through someone else's eyes, trust and forgiveness, and facing fears.
After laying down the one main ground rule (that all opinions must be treated with respect) and the one corollary (that while my opinions should be respected, no one is obligated to accept or suck up to them), the discussion we had was vibrant and full of varying perspectives and insight. Success!
I am going to do this again and again. And I'm planning to expand the list of titles I can offer to my classes. I've started an evolving wish list (click here) in case anyone wants to suggest additional titles and/or contribute books to the cause (zero pressure, though!). The books don't have to be ordered through Amazon, but they do need to be paperbacks and they need to be sent directly to me from whatever store they are purchased from to meet the requirements of the jail. Message me if you have title ideas, need my mailing address, or to let me know books are on their way so I can mark them off the wish list.
This is a good, good thing. And I'm not just saying that because Martha Stewart served time.