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Opinion: Prison Book Bans a Remnant of Slavery

In an opinion piece, Deborah G. Plant writes for the Washington Post that her brother Bobby, who is incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, is barred from reading her book, “Of Greed and Glory: In Pursuit of Freedom For All,” which tells his story. She has successfully sent him many books during his time at Angola, which dates back nearly 25 years, she says. But the prison has banned her book – “the one that documents his voice” -- telling his story, she writes, in the context of the larger story of America’s “peculiar institution” of slavery and its contemporary iteration as America’s mass incarceration system.


Banning that book is, in itself, a remnant of slavery, Plant writes. “Many of the issues roiling American society today — the banning of books, magazines, newspapers and music,  outlawing of the freedom to read and write and listen, the censoring of educational materials while criminalizing educators and librarians, and repressing speech — have roots in the anti-literacy laws of colonial slaveholding America.” It is no coincidence that prisons ban more books than schools and libraries combined, Plant writes. “Literacy — the right to read, to write, to think critically — is a civil rights issue. It is a social justice issue. And where our political and civic leadership, within and beyond prison walls, impinges upon these rights, that leadership is imposing, anew, badges and incidents of slavery.”



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