News / USA

For Inmates, Restoring Books Can Repair Lives

An inmate at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Maryland, repairs a damaged library book. (VOA/J. Spierling )
An inmate at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Maryland, repairs a damaged library book. (VOA/J. Spierling )
At the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Maryland, a small group of inmates repairs damaged library books.

Sitting at a long table covered with glue, scissors and tape, the six men fix broken spines, reassemble torn pages and replace missing covers.

They've received special training to do this delicate restoration work, which they perform five days a week.

In the process, inmates like Gregory Wallace are learning new skills and earning “good-time credit” which could help reduce their sentences.

“I like doing the spine detachments because those are the books that get thrown away,” says Wallace. “It’s easy to tape a loose page back together but once the spine comes apart basically those books go in the garbage.”

According to Wallace, when he first looks at a damaged book, he feels it’s “mission impossible,” but when he sees that people are pleased with the final result, he feels a lot better for doing it.

And in restoring the books, he believes he's healing himself, as well.

“I didn’t have a very strong work ethic,” Wallace says. “I chose the streets, and being that I chose the streets, here I am now. But just being able to come in here and do something productive has shown me that I can be productive in society as well, instead of choosing a different direction.”

Many of America’s prisons are revolving door facilities. More than 60 percent of ex-convicts find themselves back behind bars within three years, according to federal statistics.

Prison officials use a variety of programs to help reduce recidivism: classes, vocational training, therapy and, at the Maryland facility, the book repair program.

Building confidence is one of the goals of the program, says Warden Robert Green, who developed the book-repair project.

“The biggest problem we have in American corrections, and international corrections worldwide, is the amount of violence inside our systems. Period. There is no larger problem,” he says. “So if we can address the violence issue where people see value in the work that they’re doing, some worth in their existence inside those walls, perhaps violence will go down.”

Green has been at the Maryland facility for 12 years and has been a warden or senior administrator for 20 years.

“I have never stopped believing that if you give a person tangible worth inside the facility, and something to do with their time," he says, "they will avail themselves of it and do the very best that they can.”

Since the program began in April 2012, 22 inmates have repaired more than 400 books, which are sent to the facility by six area public libraries.

Boxes arrive several times a month, with volumes in a variety of sizes and on a wide range of topics; everything from art and history to children’s books. Many are no longer in print, but now, thanks to the inmates' work, they are back in circulation.

And that gives Wallace hope for his own future.

“My goals are to go home, get a job, might not be the job that I want, but to get a job and apply for school,” he says.

Following its initial success, the book repair project will be expanded early next year to all 21 public libraries in the county and Warden Green hopes to eventually accept damaged books from local public schools and colleges, as well, and get more inmates involved.

“I don’t make excuses for crime, criminal behavior, but when we have a captive audience, shame on us if we do nothing to help them change their lives,” Green says.

Government representatives from more than a dozen countries, including Saudi Arabia and China, have visited the Maryland facility to learn more about the book repair program, suggesting it might one day help to change lives all around the world.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ian from: USA
December 08, 2012 1:36 PM
The program makes so much sense. When a person can repair something, that person will come to the conclusion that he/she is capable to repair his/her life as well .

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs