Choose what you
look for.

Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts looks for four-leaf clovers at every prison he visits.

Shibumi

Despite the monotony that governs life in prison, there are also moments of serendipity. Books and friendships may very well be around the corner.

Freedom Reads is many things, but most of all it is the acknowledgment that wildly improbable things happen when you accept that a book might be the start of freedom. Some people have a story about a book that they’ll remember forever. And the thing that those stories share is the way that serendipity meets need and turns a book into a metaphor for understanding the world. Freedom Reads nurtures those stories by noticing and recounting them, believing that freedom begins with a book.

For Dwayne, Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads, that book was one that was held together by black duct tape and hope with a title that he couldn’t read.

During the late 90s, the jail population at Fairfax County nearly reached 4,000 people. He was one of them, 16 years old, having pled guilty to carjacking and facing life in prison. Others around, young as him, also faced prison sentences that were longer than the years they’d been alive. If there was a library, no one told them. Books were as scarce in the county jail as freedoms. When they left their cellblocks, it was always in handcuffs and never to a library. But there was talk of a roving book cart with a hundred misshapen paperbacks that would visit cellblock after cellblock. Then, one night, the roving book cart appeared like an apparition before Dwayne’s cell. It was 1996 and Dwayne’s eyesight was so poor that, lacking glasses, he couldn’t make out more than the giant E on an eyechart, and that was from memory. He had no hope of browsing the titles in the two seconds that he had to choose a book.

Give me that one, he said, pointing to a badly damaged book. Later, he’d learn that wonderful gift of permissions was called Shibumi by Trevanian, a man who invented a new nom de plume to suit each book he’d write. The book taught him about Go, about spelunking, and mostly how to find meaning in the most unexpected places.

The brothers are loving the books....Me, I go off the title and jacket cover. I don't like reading the back cause I want to be surprised. The one that spoke to me was "Shibumi" all white cover with a Japanese sword going down the middle of it. I'ma let you know how it turns out. On that note I'm out. Stay strong, take care, the saga continues...

Demetrius, Freedom Library Patron at John J. Moran Medium Security Facility, Rhode Island

Books have the profound ability to connect people. In prison, people tend to develop the habit of becoming roving book carts, sharing and arguing over books. Once, a friend slid Dwayne a book and he had to cross a yellow line to pick it up. Immediately he was placed in handcuffs, ready to be sent to the hole for crossing the wrong line. Moments later, Kevin Williams, another prisoner, kicked his entire foot locker onto the tier. “If Shahid goes to the hole, I’m going to the hole. You ain’t sending that man to jail for reading a book.” After a few tense moments, officers relented. 

20 years later, after Dwayne had a law degree from Yale Law School, Kevin asked Dwayne to represent him on parole. Kevin made parole and five years later, he walked into a Dillwyn Correctional Center in Virginia with the Freedom Reads team, his presence proving that freedom begins with a book.

Freedom Libraries Across the US

41
Adult and youth prisons with Freedom Libraries and counting
340
Freedom Libraries so far
200,000+
Books shipped to readers in prisons across the US to date