Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Reading Railroad

"If the book comes from the heart, it will contrive to reach other hearts."

Books, books, and more books!. One of the favorite pastimes for prisoners is reading. We certainly have the "leisure" time for it. With novels we can escape this place for a while, and nonfiction can expand our minds.

Most everyone in here has a book going at any one time. those who don't are looking for one. Sure, there are some people who just don't read, but being locked away in a 5 x 9 cement box for years on end will make a reader out of just about anyone.

Our unit library is a pretty good one.(it was virtually nonexistent on my previous unit , Coffield.) However, the problem is actually being able to go to the library. Each section/wing of the prison is allowed access for only one hour every five days. It's easy to get stuck out, especially if you have to work during that time:; and they only let in so many inmates in at once. You can check out two books per week; and woe to the fool who lets his books get overdue: goodbye library privileges. The inmates kept in solitary and in segregation get their books delivered, requesting certain titles and subjects. I'm trying to get a job in the library so I can push my favorite spiritual and educational books on those guys ( on everyone, actually ).

But most books in here are privately owned and come from the free world, sent by friends and family members. Once read, they usually hit the Reading Railroad, the underground lending library.

Underground because, officially, the prison authorities have a problem with us sharing books. Personal property is never to be shared or given away. If an inmate is found with a book without his name and number printed in it denoting ownership,the book is confiscated, often just thrown away, regardless of its value. Lots of books are confiscated. So, If a person's on top of his game,when he receives a book he'll erase the name and number already there and add his own in pencil to keep the law from throwing a fit. I don't understand, why they sweat it , myself. Anything to make our lives more miserable than they already are, I guess. It's a real tragedy when a book gets confiscated for no reason.

The prison mailroom frequently deny the books and magazine sent to us. If it doesn't come directly from the bookstore or publisher, it's not allowed. Also if it has been singled out by some Texas Baptist somewhere and reported to prison headquarters, its red flagged and not allowed. This could be a bestseller or an award-winning piece of literature, but if it's been decided that one page contains "subversive" or "harmful" material, the title is placed on a statewide "Do Not Allow" list. Much of it makes no sense, of course. They'll ban a classic becauseof a rape scene, but allow every sort of gruesome serial killer crime novel. They will allow magazines with photos of women that leave nothing to the imagination, but ban a"National Geographic" because it contains a photo of a naked nursing and nande iswborn baby. I kid you not. They flip over the most trivial, innocent, stupid things. It's as if they enjoy denying us reading material every chance they get. It's thoughtless and heartless. But there's nothing can we really do about it. Welcome to Texas.

Every once in a while a forbidden book makes its way into the prison. Some are great books like "Fight Club" or " World Without End"; and some magazine might have an unnoticed article like "Inside the Mafia" or something. If discovered by the wrong guard, the inmate risks a major disciplinary case and the punishment that goes with it. Usually,we will replace the cover on such books. They'll ride the Reading Railroad very discreetly. Once I read a martial arts book that taught "one touch death strikes ". Ha! It looked more like a medical textbook than anything else, so it pasted the mailrooms inspection. We had fun with that ine for a long time. No doubt it's still lives on.
Often a popular book will have a whole list of prisoners who are next in line to read it penciled in on the inside cover. It's the honor system for the most part and its respected. Sometimes the book will travel all the way across the unit, from hand-to-hand, past crash gates and pat searches to get to the next person in line for it. Books are also shared spontaneously, of course, going to whoever needs one at the moment. There's always a designated place on each wing, a windowsill or ledge somewhere, where available books are placed , free to a good home. A good book may last 3 minutes, tops, before it's snatched up.

Books are a godsend in prison. They are cherished. So many people in here are real booklovers, and I find it amazing that the same people say they'd never read a word on the outside prior to getting locked up. It just wasn't something they did before. But now they've got the time and interest. And it's changed their lives.

I call the constant flow of books throughout the prison the Reading Railroad because 1)it just sounds cool, like the Monopoly board property; 2) it's kept under the radar like the underground railroad that helped free slaves back in the day; and 3) like the railroad, the Reading Railroad liberates people, freeing them from ignorance and the thoughts and ideas that held them down before. That is why my favorite books are those that educate and enlighten. And that is why I do what I can to load the Railroad full of such material.

Pretty much every book I receive from home or order from the bargain books catalog is donated to the cause. I read a lot of nonfiction primarily : history, science, spirituality, travel. Not everyone's favorite stuff, but I hear back from many inmates who tell me how much they enjoyed and learned from the books. As far as fiction goes, I'm a real snob – – way too picky. The books have to be an award winners with five star reviews before I'll give it a shot. But there are plenty of them out there, so I'm pretty much blessed with a wide variety of really great books to read at all times. Thank God. I don't know how I could cope without them. And thank Mom, of course, who requests a book list from me each year and does her darndest to send everyone. She knows that every book she sends will eventually be read and enjoyed by hundreds. more prisoners over the years. Anyone who sends books to prison inmates is doing a real service and blessing a lot of poor souls.

There are five books I keep is my own little lending library: the first five are the required reading
Conversations with God – – Walch
Backwards – – Danison
Journey of souls – – Newton
Same Soul, Many Bodies – – Weiss
Ramtha, The White Book – – Knight

There's littte here that makes me happier than someone telling me how much one of these books has meant to them. I wish everyone in prison – – in the world would read at least these five books . I believe doing so would put an end to so many problems we all face, especially crime; and people would live happier, more fulfilling lives. Guaranteed! The books are really that good.
Mohamed said that any philosopher who taught a metaphysics he had not himself realized was just a donkey carrying about a book load of books.

Nothing beats experience, as they say, but reading a book good book can come pretty close sometimes. And for those of us with no real way to experience a particular thing, reading about it is often our only option. Of course, I would love to travel to Morocco, but being in prison makes that a bit difficult at the moment. Then again, I really don't want to join an outlaw motor club, but I can read about what it's like. Not to mention the fact that it's impossible to experience for ourselves what life was like in Rome in 140 A.D. , but we can read about it all day. Plus, there are countless bits of information and ideas relayed through books that we would probably never have encountered otherwise. As book readers, we can experience and learn vicariously through others.

As far spirituality goes, I agree that ultimately there is nothing better than experiencing the Di asvine for oneself. But if we haven't yet had this experience ourselves there's no reason why we can't read about it from the many who have. There are numerous books out there that recount near-death experiences of the afterlife ( someone temporarily dies on the operating table, for example), where the authors experience themselves as eternal spiritual beings of light. Their stories are all similar, relating nearly identical experiences of being welcomed by other spiritual beings as themselves, receiving messages of why they must return to their bodies, etc. Plus, there are numerous books written by doctors and psychiatrists about patients they've treated over the years with transpersonal hypnotherapy, where the person accesses and experiences there superconscious, or Higher Self, and answers questions and relates information from that "higher" spiritual plane. Again, their accounts are all very similar. No matter their religion or culture, everyone speaking from the state describes nearly the exact same details of the "spirit world" and why we are here on earth in these physical bodies. The recorded and written transcripts of these sessions are amazing and make great reading material. So, short of dying and coming back or experiencing a transpersonal hypnotherapy session ourselves, we can learn a lot about the true spiritual nature of Reality from these books.

" There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio , than are dreamt of in your philosophy",and we can learn about them in books. Study titles on metaphysics and parapsychology and "New Age" spirituality. Sure, there's some misinformation, some bullshit, out there but that stuff shouldn't eclipse or discount what is really true. With so much written on any particular subject, it's important to pick and choose only the very best, I think. I'm a sucker for excellent reviews and tend to prejudge a book by the number of these it has. But the best recommendations come from the authors and researchers whom I have come to respect most. If they all recommend the same titles, then, of course, is t is hose are the ones I'm going to read. This is how my booklist on online was put together over the years. The best of the best, I promise. I encourage everyone to check them out. Some might change your life forever.

When you think of those in prison, picture us reading – – rogue scholars trying to improve ourselves and better understand the world. That's the reality, not what you see on TV. Reading has changed our lives and made us better people.

Books, books, and more books! Consider donating your used books to the county jail or prison in your area. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers can also undoubtedly use them. As much as books might look cool sitting on your shelves, or as much as you might be "attached" to them, please remember that books are meant to be read. so, give them away – – don't sell them – – to people who will really enjoy them. Set up a free book "garage sale" with instructions to pass them along to others. Keep finished books in the car to leave in waiting rohim oms and other places for whoever might appreciate them. And maybe visit your local schools to give away some books that influenced you at that age. Just some ideas to spread the"word".

As always, thanks for listening and caring. Bye for now.