Reading a million books in prison doesn’t mean an inmate is rehabilitating or intelligent, it just means they’ve read a million books. I know people who read around 4 novels a week. That’s over 200 books a year. While they read a lot, they have absolutely no idea what led them to prison.

Others read scores of self-help books but have no idea how to apply the ideals in their life. They say they want to wait until they get into the “real” world to practice. Uh, excuse me, but this place is VERY real. Pinch me because if this is isn’t real, I’d *love* to wake up now.

It bothers me when some people in prison believe that because they read a lot they are somehow repaying their debt to society. I do believe that societal debt repayment consists, in part, of reading and educating oneself (because this increases likelihood of meaningful societal contributions upon release, thus enabling another method/sense of “justice” for everyone involved). But reading without application is empty and meaningless.

What I’ve noticed with those who read a lot, 2-3 books per week, is that they are not socializing, which isn’t a good thing. Put someone in a position where they refuse to connect with their environment over an extended period of time and what you get is someone totally apathetic to other humans in that environment. Not a good thing. Even the most reclusive friends I have that spend a lot of time in the books still make time for a social life because without that they struggle. One of my friends has precisely 2 of us he socializes with inside prison, but he socializes intensely and meaningfully with us. Others may have 1 or 2 associates but the conversation is insubstantive and empty.

I bring this to light because I want people to know that while prison sucks, yadda yadda yadda and blah blah blah, there *is* a way to do “time” effectively. Which means there is a way to do “time” ineffectively. Learning to socialize in any environment is a skill that needs to used and nurtured because one of the biggest factors that leads one to commit a crime is failing to have (or use) a support system that one can ask for help from. If we come to prison and continue that same behavior, that isn’t justice. That isn’t honoring any victim, that isn’t repaying a debt. It’s doing exactly what brought one to prison and obstinately refusing to change while reading a book.

Expect more from your prison system, expect a more defined sense of justice. Spark the thought, enflame the debate, make a difference.

With Love
Ruth Utnage