Freedom libraries open in Buckingham County. Where are they?

Published 1:22 am Friday, March 8, 2024

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The doors opened in the middle of last week. National nonprofit Freedom Reads officially found a place to call home in Buckingham County, although it might not be one you’d expect. The group opened 32 “Freedom Libraries” in correctional centers in Buckingham County. 

Eighteen libraries will be placed in housing units at Buckingham Correctional Center and 14 libraries will be installed at Dillwyn Correctional Center, providing inmates access to the 500-book collections.

This donation follows the 2023 opening of 12 “Freedom Libraries” at St. Brides and Indian Creek correctional centers, respectively, bringing the total number of donated “Freedom Libraries” to 56 in VADOC facilities.

How did Freedom Libraries start? 

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Freedom Reads founder Reginald Dwayne Betts, a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate who was sentenced in Virginia to nine years in prison at age 16, established “Freedom Libraries” to create spaces to encourage community in correctional facilities.

These library openings also mark the 19th anniversary of Betts’ own release date. To commemorate the anniversary, Betts is performing his one-man show “FELON: An American Washi Tale,” in which he explores the lingering consequences of having a criminal record, fatherhood, the power of literature, and love, at both Dillwyn and Buckingham correctional centers today. The show is based on Betts’ 2019 poetry collection “FELON,” winner of the NAACP Image Award.

Each bookcase is handcrafted out of maple, walnut, or cherry and is curved to contrast the straight lines and bars of prisons. 

“These donations are so greatly appreciated by the Virginia Department of Corrections,” said VADOC Director Chad Dotson. “We all know the true inspiration books can bring to our lives, and I hope these libraries will bring messages of hope, inspiration, knowledge, and wisdom to the inmates at Buckingham and Dillwyn. Thank you to Mr. Betts and the Freedom Reads team for their donation, which will help to prepare inmates for successful re-entry. That successful re-entry in turn leads to long-term public safety in the Commonwealth.”

Discovering a love for reading

“I grew up in Virginia prisons and it was in those cellblocks that I discovered a love for all that a good book can do for you,” said Freedom Reads Founder and CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts. “Bringing Freedom Libraries here, sharing my artistry with men I served time with, and hoping to be a part of this beacon of possibility we all need is a real honor. It was men in Virginia prisons that reminded me I mattered when I didn’t believe it to be true and this is something of a thank you.”

Books in the “Freedom Libraries” have been carefully curated through consultations with hundreds of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers, and include works by contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists alongside classic works from Homer’s “The Odyssey” to the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”