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Books Beyond Bars Fundraiser

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Words Without Walls Zines
Words Without Walls Zines

Going to prison is nobody’s idea of a good time, but particularly so for women. According to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), 2/3 of incarcerated women have children on the outside, and are far more likely than men to be their primary caregivers.

Any sentence that incarcerates a mother will have a much greater disruption upon the family unit. And incarceration of women in Canada is on the rise. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of incarcerated women in federal penitentiaries increased by 30%. At first glance this might suggest that more women are engaging in criminal activity in Canada. It’s worth noting, however, that in 2003, 75% of incarcerated women were serving time for minor offenses such as shoplifting and fraud.

This increase in the number of female prisoners in Canada plays into a larger political scheme that sees prisons for profit, and new prison construction as an opportunity to shell out funds earmarked for development. In August of 2010 the Kingston Whig-Standard obtained a list of 35 Canadian prisons slated for expansion; the tab for this expansion is set to run into the hundreds of millions.

Expanding prisons, and filling them, is a big business. It brings cash and jobs to sympathetic ridings, and is a vote-grabbing stunt rather than a real effort to apply rehabilitation to those deemed to be “criminal.” The Nova Institute for Women in Truro is among those prisons slated for expansion.

Expansionists don't want to see empty prison cells after spending tens of millions of dollars on expansion. Criminals need to be found, and locked up. With the price of keeping a female prisoner behind bars estimated to cost at least twice that of incarcerating a male prisoner, it’s not surprising to see the long arm of the law reaching out for women in particular.

With such a focus on expansion, the justice system simply serves the purpose of locking up the largest quantity of prisoners. Accordingly, as the focus shifts to incarcerating the maximum number of individuals, the quality of life for those behind bars suffers. Bigger prisons do not equal better prisons; they just equal bigger prisons. Conditions for prisoners do not improve, and life on the inside can be mind-numbing.

CAEFS notes that women in prison are twice as likely as the general population to engage in self-mutilation, such as slashing. 59% of female prisoners reported having engaged in such behaviour. Self-mutilation is generally understood to be a behaviour linked to releasing distress. Suicides are also twice more prevalent in prison than in the general population. To overlook such statistics, indeed to increase the number of women in such an environment, is to knowingly turn a blind eye to the plight of our prison system for the sake of profit.

Enter Books Beyond Bars. Books Beyond Bars is a local initiative that twice monthly goes into the women's sections of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside and the Nova Institute in Truro. BBB is entirely volunteer-run. The program has a variety of initiatives, including book exchange, journal distribution, collection and publication of prisoners’ art and poetry in a zine and book format known as “Words Without Walls”, and a “Read Aloud” program, in which women are recorded reading children’s books for the benefit of their children on the outside.

Books Beyond Bars also organizes writing and poetry workshops for incarcerated women. BBB perceives the prison system to be unjust, but until options other than incarceration are finally brought into the mainstream judicial system, they are tirelessly working to improve female prisoners’ plight.

BBB needs your help this Thursday, November 4th, from 11am to 4pm. Volunteers will be outside Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (2209 Gottingen Street) selling used books for 1$. They will also be selling issues of their “Words Without Walls” zine for 3$, and a book of the collected volumes of the Words Without Walls zines for 10$. All monies raised will be put towards buying more books and writing supplies for the prisoners at Burnside and Truro.

Books Beyond Bars is also in constant need of books for its literacy programs. BBB will be accepting donations of used or new books, with an emphasis on self-help (healthy relationships, abuse recovery), addiction/harm reduction, books by prisoners/ex-prisoners, True Crime, popular fiction authors (paperback), and adult literacy workbooks and readers.

Books Beyond Bars is also always looking for Blank journals (no spiral ring binding), as well as stamps.

If you can’t make it to the fundraiser in person, Books Beyond Bars can be reached at  booksbeyondbars@gmail.com.  

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