Reading in Prison: Controversy and Hope

Today, we’re inspired by a story about the power of books from On Point, produced by Boston public radio station WBUR.

It profiles Jason Hernandez, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for dealing drugs. While in prison, he picked up The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, about how mass incarceration disproportionately affects communities of color.

It inspired him to write his own clemency application, which President Obama granted in 2013. After he was freed, he started Crack Open the Door, a nonprofit devoted to sentencing reform. And it all started with a book.



Federal courts allow states to censor prisoners’ reading material, but the fight over books in prison has a long history in America.

One of the demands in the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 was the end of censorship; books about African-American studies and books written in Spanish were banned.

And this January, the ACLU successfully fought to end a ban on The New Jim Crow in New Jersey and North Carolina prisons, but it’s banned in Florida.

Jason Hernandez told On Point that The New Jim Crow changed his life: “‘You’re talking about a book that, I probably would not be here today on this phone with you, or if I was, it would be through a prison line, because that book actually broke me free from jail.'”