Interview with Prison Library Project
By: Sami Ghannem
On December 1st, I talked to Joey Reyes, who is a representative of the Prison Library Project of Claremont. Our Center, through MECA, has been heavily involved in this project by providing free literature. The Center is flooded with requests for Qurans and Islamic literature from inmates seeking to reform their lives through spiritual guidance.
Through a partnership with the Claremont Forum Bookstore’s Prison Library Project, we will now be able to respond to the hundreds of requests seamlessly. We also provide MP3s of our Friday sermons, Dr. Maher Hathout’s podcast, and more to the Muslim Chaplains Association so they can share the material with inmates interested in learning about Islam.
I asked Joey some questions regarding how the Project serves prison inmates, how it specifically provides Islamic literature, and the prudence of driving such a project.
Sami: Thanks for being here with me. I just want to ask you a few questions regarding the project, the needs of Muslims in prisons and inmates in general, etc.
Joey: Thank you! Glad to answer any questions you have?
Sami: So first off, how did this project start, and how has it grown to serve the needs of people? What kind of people might they be?
Joey: The Claremont Forum Bookstore’s Prison Library Project was founded in 1985 on the East Coast, and brought on through extension to California. It provides reading material to inmates in state federal prisons. We’ve increased books sent over 6 years from 120 people a week to 250 people. We most often send dictionaries and vocabulary builders, about 400 a month. We also supply material that can help drug addicts get through the rehabilitation process.
Sami: How do you process requests for literature, especially religious texts?
Joey: We receive letters from inmates who request literature, and then we, to the best of our ability, supply those inmates who request literature. Both men and women write, and we receive about 300 letters a week.
Of course, our organization does not discriminate, so we don’t provide only specific religious texts. However, thanks to your Center’s support, we can supply Islamic texts to those who want them as well, just as other religious authorities help us supply Christian, Hindu, and other religious texts.
Sami: How are you funded?
Joey: We’re a non-profit organization that relies on monetary donations.
Sami: One last question: some might argue that the Prison Library Project is wasting its time in serving ‘the ever increasing demands’ of inmates, and that many of the inmates have no hope of restoring their previous life. The argument follows that paying thousands of dollars for literature to send to inmates is a waste of time. What do you think?
Joey: As an organization, we believe in reform. People will always have the potential to change, and our literature will only bolster that process and turn certain inmates back into productive and successful members of society. Our books give, through information, the opportunity to change. People in drug rehabilitation have the ability to ask for books that will help them psychologically, and this literature may tip the balance for recovery in cases like these.
Personally, I think that the U.S. prison system endorses too much retribution and—for lack of a better word—torture. Things like solitary confinement will never encourage recovery. That’s ironic, considering the point of U.S. prisons is to protect the general population through something that will encourage a turn around. Also, inmates often come from impoverished communities, and are often glad to get the chance to have access to knowledge that can do wonders. A book can also help a person relax at the end of the day, and can prevent violence between fellow inmates or, especially, prison guards.
Sami: Thanks once again, it’s been great to talk with you.
Joey: Thank you Sami, my pleasure.