The Power of Reading
Just a few short weeks ago, I had a rare and exciting experience through my work at MHC–the chance to take part in a book discussion at Jessup Correctional Institution (JCI). Groups of all types across the state have been reading Warren St. John’s Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town as a part of the 2010 One Maryland One Book program, including inmates at the state’s prisons.
Maryland’s correctional institutions—both adult and juvenile—have participated in One Maryland One Book since its inception three years ago. This year, we were fortunate to be able to bring author Warren St. John to JCI to share his motivation for writing the book with 29 inmates.
This book about a soccer team of refugee boys, their coach, and the small town where they live in Georgia spoke to the inmates in ways that I had not anticipated. The discussion was intense. Inmates asked Mr. St. John about his choice of the title and Luma’s motivation for leaving her privileged life. They discussed racism, fear, bigotry, unity, struggle, tolerance, bravery, acceptance and understanding. One inmate said he identified with the book because the refugees’ experience was similar to the life of prisoners. Like the refugees, he said, inmates come from disparate racial, economic, and religious backgrounds. Their initial discomfort and separateness often disappear for them when they engage in activities such as sports just as these things did for the refugee boys in the book. They thanked Mr. St. John for coming to the prison and for his insight. They encouraged him to continue writing from the heart. At the end of the program, like any free person, those with books lined up for his signature.
This is what One Maryland One Book is all about: bringing people together in their communities—wherever that might be—through reading the same book and discussing issues important to their lives.
- Andrea Lewis, One Maryland One Book Coordinator with contributions from Glennor Shirley, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries
Tags: One Maryland One Book