“Reading is fundamental” and “Education is the great equalizer” are well-known adages that speak to the transformative power of literacy. It’s why mega-star John Legend is asking others to join him in funding a library at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
“I am supporting @million_book with @letsfreeamerica to fund a library at the Louisiana State Penitentiary this year. Consider donating to give incarcerated individuals a chance to change their lives through literacy for #GivingTuesday,” Legend tweeted on Tuesday, Nov. 29, along with a link to the donation webpage.
The project is being spearheaded by Legend’s FREEAMERICA campaign, which is working to help end mass incarceration, and a nonprofit called Freedom Reads, which uses literacy programs to “empower people through literature to confront what prison does to the spirit.”
Founded by Reginald Dwayne Betts, who found solace in books while incarcerated as a teenager, Freedom Reads curates 500-book collections in prisons across the country. Thus far, the organization has libraries in Louisiana and New York prisons.
“I survived solitary, and rediscovered a sense of freedom the system had tried to beat out of me, because of a book,” Betts said in a statement on the organization’s website. “I realized that a poem can give somebody a whole world of hope. And after reading that book, I dedicated myself to helping other prisoners, and people outside of prison, discover the freedom blueprint that poetry, literature, and other arts can provide.”
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The library at the Louisiana State Penitentiary would be the latest “Freedom Library” to open.
The organization also hosts Freedom Talks and curates a Prison Letters project, highlighting letters from prisoners across the country who say they are wrongly incarcerated. The latter began after Yutico Briley wrote a letter proclaiming his innocence that the New York Times Magazine made its cover story and eventually led to Briley’s exoneration.
Marcus Bullock is the founder of Flikshop, which helps families stay connected with incarcerated loved ones by sending personalized postcards.
He said he was Betts’ co-defendant in the case that led to his incarceration and celebrated the progress Betts and Freedom Books have made. He also celebrated having the support of someone of Legend’s caliber.
“It’s crazy that @dwaynebetts and I started as co-defendants that made a bad decision in high school, to both of us finding ways to build our dreams of supporting people just like us with @million_book and @flikshop. Today, our work harnesses the support of some really dope people,” Bullock tweeted.
To donate to help build the library at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, click here.
John Legend arrives at the 23rd annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay Michelob Ultra Arena on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary help with library. (Twitter @johnlegend)