Books in prison

Author Anthony Doerr speaks to a group of inmates, gathered in the prison chapel, during a visit to the Idaho State Correctional Institution, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Doerr had previously donated multiple copies of his book "All The Light We Cannot See" to the prison library.

About halfway through a Q&A after Anthony Doerr’s seminar at the Idaho State Correctional Institution last month, someone asked if it was the first time he’d spoken to a group of people in prison. The Boise-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist replied it was, indeed, the first.

The room broke into applause, writes Idaho Press reporter Tommy Simmons. 

Doerr wasn’t speaking to the 30 or so inmates in the prison’s chapel because he wanted to promote anything. This wasn’t a stop on a book tour, nor was the event even especially publicized. He donated 30 copies of his award-winning novel — “All the Light We Cannot See” — to the prison library; he wasn’t paid to do it. He had agreed to speak at the prison because he knew a member of the Idaho Board of Correction.

His outreach to Idaho prisoners shone a light on a little-discussed matter in popular culture: Books in prison, and inmates' access to information, which can be restricted for an array of reasons. But books in prison, like the 22,000 volumes in the Idaho State Correctional Institution's prison library, can also open doors for prison inmates, to everything from education and self-betterment to a temporary form of escape. You can read Simmons' full report here at (subscription required), or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press; it's on the front page.

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