Malcolm X’s former prison cell becomes first of 1,000 planned ‘freedom libraries’ | Books

Malcolm X writes in his autobiography of how he spent hours studying within the library at Norfolk Prison in Massachusetts. Now the cell that the human rights activist is believed to have occupied is ready to be remodeled right into a library itself, because of the work of the poet and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts.

Betts, who gained a MacArthur “genius” grant price $625,000 (£471,000) in September, was incarcerated himself after being tried as an grownup for a carjacking on the age of 16. He has spoken of how, in the course of the 9 years he spent in prison, he was “writing on daily basis, studying on daily basis, imagining that phrases would give me the liberty to grasp what acquired me in prison”, as a result of “while you’re trapped in a cell, actually, phrases are your solely lifeline”.

Reginald Dwayne Betts.
Reginald Dwayne Betts. {Photograph}: Jessica Hill/AP

Betts is now working to arrange 1,000 micro-libraries in prisons throughout the US by way of his charity, Freedom Reads, supported by the Andrew W Mellon Basis. The first Freedom Library opened this month on the MCI-Norfolk, within the cell believed to have been Malcolm’s within the Forties. Whereas there, the activist, who had been jailed for theft, spent many hours studying and finding out the dictionary within the library and becoming a member of the debating society.

“One of the issues Malcolm X stated was {that a} prerequisite for altering your life is an understanding of what it means to be responsible,” Betts told the Boston Globe. “And what it means to wish to be greater than that factor. And I believe books offer you entry to that. So it’s this chance for folks to come back shut to non-public discovery, to come back near reflection.”

The brand new library combines a broad vary of fiction and non-fiction, from Malcolm X’s autobiography to works by Dickens and Steinbeck, Betts stated. “It skews towards up to date work and it’s numerous in each approach you may anticipate,” he told the paper. “It’s rather a lot of ladies writers. And it’s a mixture of enjoyable books and difficult books.”

The thought to position the library in Malcolm X’s cell got here from the prison’s superintendent Nelson Alves. “Alves stated ‘I’ve labored in prisons 25 years and I’ve by no means seen something stunning right here’. And so we constructed this factor that’s stunning that has all this data, and we’ve constructed it with the hope and the expectation that it’s going to profit the workers and people doing time as nicely,” stated Betts. “If you hear Malcolm X speak about it — and perceive it’s a prison within the 40s — he talks about it as a spot the place folks valued schooling, the place folks valued information. He acquired an opportunity to be a pacesetter of an mental neighborhood. So a mission like this, what higher place to place it to start?”

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