Books Behind Bars

Before outlining ‘Books Behind Bars’ I should talk about Cana Farm, part of Cana Communities, a charity supporting men and women who have experienced extraordinary life challenges. Located in Sydney’s Orchard Hills, the Farm is about growing fresh produce (such as veggies, fruits, flowers & eggs) but it’s also about growing friendships and hope. They believe in celebration, forgiveness and acceptance.

They provide the opportunity for people to learn from each other and to recreate themselves. The Farm employs people who have lived on the margins and have been severely disadvantaged. Education is part of the learning experience and this is done through Western Sydney TAFE Outreach. They celebrate difference. Part of that support involves offering employment, accommodation and other support services to people who have spent time in jail, services that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them.

I have had an association with Cana Farm for two or three years, participating in regular get-togethers with some of the people Cana helps out, sampling some of their excellent produce and building relationships with some of the men who haven’t had the advantages most of us have had, that is, a normal upbringing. Some of them have got themselves into trouble and spent time in jail but at their core they are decent people.

‘Books Behind Bars’ is an idea springing from the philosophy that literacy should not be limited to those with a good education. The idea is to firstly start a Book Club, to introduce the idea that reading should never be restricted to those who ‘have.’ Great ideas spring from literature just as great ideas are communicated through it.

The objective of ‘Books Behind Bars’ is, firstly, to develop community while concurrently facilitating discussion and improving literacy with books that are accessible, that stimulate this discussion and which develop ideas, in addition to their being able too express whatever hope, or pain, or anger that may be inside them, through either talking or writing. But more than that, at the very least, it provides a way for these men and women to process what has led them to where they are and to feel as though they can again be a part of the society that has locked them away. We hope ‘Books Behind Bars’ can go some small way to firstly, letting these people know that there is hope and that secondly, that they need not be as marginalised as some parts of our society would have us believe.