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 CanadaHelps.org. 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.”