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From the Pages of Orlando Weekly: Florida Prisoners Should Have Fair Access to Books

Photo via Florida Department of Corrections
Photo via Florida Department of Corrections

Two of the ugliest words in the English language: banned books.

Can a book be inherently dangerous? No, not unless it’s really heavy and you’re swinging it at someone’s head.

It’s the words inside that authorities often want to control, whether those authorities run schools, libraries or prisons. And prisons, in particular, have the strictest guidelines for what kinds of knowledge they want to keep outside their walls. They also have the widest latitude in what they can ban.

More than 8,000 books are forbidden from Florida prisons. Just a few of those titles are “Computers for Seniors … For Dummies” “100 Best Solitaire Games,” and “Anti-Stress Coloring Book of Love: An Assortment of Hearts, Animals, Flowers, Trees and Other Cute Pictures.”

But more troubling, many of the censored titles are relevant to incarceration. Prisons regularly label books “threats to security” that could help prisoners understand their experiences or seek political or legal help.

A Florida organization called the Human Rights Defense Center acquired the banned books list through a public records request. They are fighting to ensure fair access to reading materials in prisons nationwide, calling the “sheer breadth and wide-ranging scope of prison censorship in Florida … astounding.”

Books are tools for education and self-empowerment, and the Florida Department of Corrections' motto is “Inspiring success by transforming one life at a time.” It’s time for them to live up to their own words by rethinking the ways in which they suppress words.