Incarcerated Ideas

Andrea Jones examines some of the banned books in prison, using the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a case study:

As noted by the Texas Civil Rights Project, the majority of banned books fell into the two most nebulous threat categories: promoting deviant sexual behavior, and inciting disorder through strikes, gang violence, or riots. Wide tracts of literature grappling with challenging themes like race, sex, and poverty were denied at the discretion of prison authorities, with no clear link to penological objectives.


Books by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Jeffrey Eugenides, Sinclair Lewis, Norman Mailer, Annie Proulx, Philip Roth, Art Spiegelman, Wallace Stegner, John Updike, Robert Penn Warren, and Alice Walker were deemed unfit. The Color Purple, for example, was banned for its opening scene of sexual abuse—Celie’s ensuing struggle for empowerment amid racism and patriarchy were of no value according to TDCJ’s mailroom inspectors. …

Books incriminating prison institutions were overwhelmingly censored for mentioning rape, despite the topic’s critical relevance. Prison Masculinities, a collection of essays edited by prison mental health experts, was banned for its candid discussion of sexual assault and violence behind bars. The Perpetual Prisoner Machine, a look into the profit motives driving mass incarceration, was barred for quoting a 1968 report from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on the problem’s prevalence in local jails. Even self-help and rehabilitative titles about the prevention of violent sexual behavior, like Stopping Rape: A Challenge for Men, and Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest, were prohibited by TDCJ.

Previous Dish on prison libraries here.