Book Clubs for Inmates

by | November 26, 2014

On November 21, Kate Taylor introduced Globe and Mail readers to a different kind of book club: Book Clubs for Inmates.

Book Clubs for Inmates was started in 2009 by Carol Finlay, a retired Anglican priest and English teacher, at Collins Bay Institution, in Kingston Ontario:

“I went into Collins Bay. … I thought I would do prayers with the guys in segregation,” Finlay says, recalling how she discovered that nobody in prison needed any more religion. “I had to find something that was small ‘s’ spiritual: They are overwhelmed with volunteers evangelizing them. … I have always been interested in book clubs as a way of forming community. You may not like the book but you get together with people and discuss it.”

Finlay is so right: nobody in prison needs any more religion, but the inmates at Collins Bay were enthusiastic about the idea of a book club, and they wanted “to start immediately.” The Book Clubs for Inmates project is a success, and now, there are book clubs in prisons across Canada.

Reading fosters “Literacy, Self-Awareness & Empathy” the three words in BCFI’s motto. Erin, who volunteers at Warkworth Institution, explains

“I have people who say to me these inmates are not deserving of a book,” she said, “People have to realize some day these inmates will get out and will be sitting beside you on a bus or chatting to your kid on the street. Everybody deserves a chance to get themselves back together.”

While prison inmates don’t get a lot of choice in the day to day running of prisons, the members of the prison book clubs get to “vote on what titles to read from a list compiled by the volunteers . . . and Finlay’s suggestions from other clubs.”

If you would like to help Book Clubs for Inmates to “improve inmates’ chances of becoming contributing members of society,” you can donate through If you do donate, please leave a message in the “Message/Instructions for Book Clubs for Inmates Inc.” section that says, “donated after reading Canadian Atheist November 26th post.”


One thought on “Book Clubs for Inmates

  1. Tim Underwood

    Sending books to inmates is very instructive about the type of people we have working for us.
    I’ve sent hardcover books to some institutions without causing any fuss.
    I’ve had hard cover books returned because of policies accepting soft cover books but not hard cover books.
    I’ve had soft cover books returned because of policies that prohibit books. Something about the inmates not being allowed to receive presents.
    I’ve had photocopied material returned because it was deemed to be copywrite protected material. It was not. It usually was free material from the Internet with the printing format provided by the publisher.

    A lot of this literature was of a secular humanist nature: occasionally even atheist.

    A lot of the prison employees have very strong opinions about the supernatural. Just imagine, if you will, a time when more mullahs are chaplains.

    It is very clear to me that we need literature screening of inmate acceptable literature to be controlled by secularists, exclusively.

    This is an area where the existing wardens and chaplains are quite often unacceptable.

    The horrible schizophrenic moralities fostered by all the Abrahamic dogmas are a contributing factor to both poor mental health and violent criminal behavior.

    Humanism is a moralistic approach to confrontation and citizenship. What could be more appropriate for those who have fallen afoul of our humanist codes?

    Well nothing, but it still irks some of our prison workers.


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