Freedom Libraries to Open in Maine State Prison

Freedom Libraries, conceived by Reginald Dwayne Betts, former prisoner-turned-acclaimed-poet, open at maximum security facility in Warren, Maine

Today, the national non-profit Freedom Reads opened 17 Freedom Libraries in Maine State Prison (MSP), a maximum-security facility located in Warren, ME. The Freedom Libraries will be placed in each of the facilities' cellblocks for unfettered access to the curated collection. One of MSP's 17 Freedom Libraries will be dedicated to staff use. These openings mark an ongoing partnership with the Maine Department of Corrections, which was one of the first Departments of Corrections to welcome partnering with Freedom Reads.

The brainchild of 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, the Freedom Libraries seek to create a space to encourage community and where reaching for a book can be as spontaneous as human curiosity. Each bookshelf is handcrafted out of maple, walnut or cherry and is curved to contrast straight lines and bars of prisons as well as to evoke Martin Luther King Jr.'s line about the "arc of the universe" bending "toward justice."

Betts' nonprofit is a first-of-its-kind organization that empowers people through literature to imagine new possibilities for their lives. Books in the Freedom Library have been carefully curated through consultations with hundreds of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers, resulting in a collection of books that are not only beloved but indispensable. The libraries include contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists alongside classic works from Homer's The Odyssey to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, titles that remind us that the book has long been a freedom project.

"For many, access to literature opens up the opportunity for imagining a better tomorrow. We are grateful to the Maine Department of Corrections for allowing us to offer that opportunity to those incarcerated in their facilities," said Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads. "With the opening of these Freedom Libraries at Maine State Prison, we are fostering the type of creativity and hope that we believe can transform the lives of those incarcerated. It is our hope that the legacy of these libraries is seen every day in the lives of those impacted by them."

"The Maine Department of Corrections is happy to have these beautiful libraries at Maine's largest correctional facility," said Anthony Cantillo, Deputy Commissioner for the Maine Department of Corrections. "With 17 libraries being placed in the facility, it is sure to bring great conversations and warmth. We at the Maine DOC are grateful for the opportunity to receive these libraries once again and look forward to other meaningful opportunities from Freedom Reads!"