The Prison Book Club Syllabus: Learning, Listening, Inspiring

The men’s book club at Hazelton is about to have its third meeting, and already, the group has had such an impact on us.

A Promising Start

Everyone was nervous on our first day—no matter how many book clubs we facilitate, both students and volunteers alike have classic first-day-of-school jitters—but those nerves quickly dissipated among the large personalities and good humor members brought with them.

The men already had a great rapport with each other, almost immediately informing us about the abilities and talents they admired in group members. They welcomed us into this camaraderie with open arms.

From Student to Teacher

One thing that’s stuck out from our time together is just how dedicated the men already are to the group. From day one, they made it clear that they are there to learn—not only from the books we read but also from one another.

Each meeting, members remind the group that our space is one for respectful and active discussion.

One of their main interests is a desire to listen and learn from perspectives different from their own, and this criterion is a large motivating factor behind their book selections. It’s the kind of approach to learning the teachers among us dream about, but that’s probably where it stems from: Each man is a sort of teacher in their own right, eager to teach us about their experiences and determined to share them with others, too.

What’s Next

Our first book was The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, which brought up discussions of friendship, justice, and the death penalty—topics with weights we were able to see, and a weight that becomes so much heavier behind bars in ways unimaginable to those of us on the outside.

In the coming weeks, the men have asked us to organize a writing workshop. In fact, one of the group’s members has already published a book, and many of the others want to work on their own projects.

Both groups—the men and the facilitators—are there for the same reasons: to learn, listen, and inspire each other within a system that tries so hard to extinguish all three.

Support the Appalachian Prison Book Project

At APBP, we rely on donations and volunteers to provide books and educational opportunities to people on the inside. Get involved today to help us continue challenging mass incarceration.

By Gabriella Pishotti

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