Prison Book Recommendations…

…that is, books to read in prison that are good for you.

If you don’t have a GED, get one. You’ve got time to spend in prison. You can spend it wisely or poorly, meaning, you can have something to show for your time spent here when you get out, or not. If you have something to show for your time, then you won’t regret having wasted it. You’ll have something positive-a GED, and you’ll have one less negative-no regret for having blown an opportunity. It’s a “twofer” (two things for the price of one). Life doesn’t give you many “twofers”.

Odds are about 0% that you won’t get it when you get out, if you don’t get it now. Get your GED.

Once you’ve got your GED, keep it going. Read things that will help you while still in prison and might help you when you get out. If you don’t have marketable skills, pick one and go for it. There’s a counseling officer whose office is probably in the library. Go talk to her. Or him. I don’t know any more about it than that. In fact, I managed to have a career and support a family, without a marketable skill. But don’t count on being as lucky as me. (Oh yeah, I’m in prison too.)

If you already have a marketable skill, or if you don’t and don’t need one, then read something that might help you in prison.

What most of us in here need mostly is a rational realistic perspective that gives us the flexibility to adjust to, 1) the fact that we’re in here, rightly or wrongly, and 2) that we can deal with it (i.e. make the best of it) or not.

I’ve found the following books extremely helpful.

-Les Miserables (pronounced ‘Lay Mizarawb’, I think) by Victor Hugo (1862). The camp I’m in has one copy, on the Classics shelf. There are several DVDs in the chapel of the movie and stage plays. Haven’t seen them yet. Don’t know how good they are. The book, though, is phenomenal.

It’s a long book (about 1,300 pages) but you don’t have to read it all. I didn’t. There are some big chunks that are historical background (Napoleon and his wars and the French revolution), and other chunks that aren’t necessary. By beginning at the beginning you’ll read the captivating story of a bishop who is as great an example of Christ as can be found outside the Bible. That story ends with the introduction of Jean Valjean, the main figure of the novel. From then on you’ll be able to track the narrative as it weaves through various subplots, always to return to Jean Valjean (who has to assume different names to escape a vicious prosecutor, Javert).

His courage and endurance will inspire you. His struggles with injustice, conscience, anger, and danger will help you deal with your own struggles. It asks, who will judge the prosecutors? Who determines what is true, and which is greater-the truth or the whole truth? Above all it presents the improbable idea that the convict can achieve the greatest measure of nobility.

More to follow.


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