Just a little background on him: he's almost 30 and a 10th or 11th grade dropout, but earned his GED by age 19. At 22 he was locked up for crimes inspired by desperation, bad temper, and substance abuse, which came with a 10-year sentence because there was a gun involved. He's almost 30 now, so that means 23 months and counting before he's home free.
I am terrified of his getting out mostly because of the thought that he'll go right back in, as there have been few classes or resources to "fix" whatever got him into prison in the first place. I know whatever happens after his re-entry will be up to him and the choices he makes, but I can't help but think that the books I send him are the only/biggest hope he's got at doing right this time.
According to my bro, the library at his prison is small and contains mostly Nora Roberts. Good for boredom, maybe (not), but not emotional growth and healing.
Which leads me back to the books he's read via me this year:
I sent several collections of Calvin & Hobbes and The Blindside, in hopes he'll regain some of the humanity that prison has very likely taken from him. Then What is the What so he'll see that the world is huge and scary but hope exists, especially through education. (I am surprised and ecstatic to report that he loved this book and later found A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by the same author on his own at the prison library.)
I liked Ned Vizinni's take on mood meds and being hospitalized for a suicide attempt and depression in It's Kind of a Funny Story, which I think may have helped my brother see that not all psych doctors are ill-willed and mislead. (He had several bad experiences as a kid with that too, but haven't we all?)
When he asked for something about Muhammad Ali, I (overreached and) got him Everything They Had: Sportswriting From David Halberstam, which he didn't read. (Which made me mad at first, but then I realized I've had a rough time getting through a couple other Halberstam books myself this year.)
Thinking about my bro's possible wanderlust lead me to send him Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, and then Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States so he could learn how hard the generations before his had to work for their rights. Again, I was very excited by how excited he was after reading his first Howard Zinn book.
Since I'd been going by all the authors & subjects I liked and was familiar with, I decided to reach out for suggestions. One of the owners at Inkwood Books in Tampa suggested The Magicians by Lev Grossman when I asked for a fantasy book. (By the way, I've been to several chain and independent book stores in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties but only the folks at Inkwood have helped me through the sometimes complicated process of sending books to prisons. I ♥ Inkwood!)
And a fabulous children's librarian in Tampa who I'll be forever indebted turned me onto the young adult author Walter Dean Myers, so I sent his Sunrise Over Fallujah, a fictional story about the war in Iraq, and Lockdown, about two of my favorite places to hate: prisons and assisted living facilities. I'm hoping these latter two books rescue my brother from feeling sorry for himself.
In addition to those books, I've sent him random editorials from the New York Times and the paper's "Modern Love" column, as well as clippings of all the reporting and blogging I've done this year.
I've never thought about what people in prison read or do until my brother was in for a while. It's astounding to think that a little more education would have prevented him from going in to begin with. Three cheers that this makeshift self-education will be what keeps him from going back.