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"Chicken soup for inmates' souls"

Update: February, 13/2015 - 15:29
Cover of The Memoir of Tam Sida -- Overcame the Death. The book was penned by Truong Thi Hong Tam, who had spend years living in different rehabilitation centres.  —  Photo
HA NOI (VNS) — For many prison inmates, reading brings a sense of solace and helps them to get back on right track.

While donating books to prisoners is common in many developed countries, this charitable gesture is rare in Viet Nam.

Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper has reported that a number of publishers used to donate books to prisons, but now only the HCM City-based Tri Viet-First News Publishing House is involved in this reading rehabilitation.

Speaking at a publishing conference in HCM City, Tri Viet director Nguyen Van Phuoc said that his company had donated 20,000 books from the Chicken Soup for the Soul collection to prisons across the country, that were warmly welcomed inmates.

"It's not just average people and students who read books; people behind bars also need books to learn about life skills," he said.

From a letter to a book

A local newspaper recently published a letter from a prisoner who was grateful to receive one of those books.

From Dong Gang Prison in the central province of Khanh Hoa, prisoner Nguyen Van Khoi wrote: "There are no words to describe my feelings when I entered the prison. Everything seemed to collapse like I was falling down from heaven to hell. I was distraught and didn't care about anything anymore. My fate seemed to be sealed, and bad luck seemed to follow me. My mother died four months after I was imprisoned, and shortly after, my wife filed for a divorce and took my children away because she could not bear the pressure of having a husband in jail. I was in a deep abyss. Every door slammed on me. I even thought about taking my own life to get away from the pain. I tried to commit suicide by hanging myself, but it didn't work, so I asked a friend to send me some sleeping pills. However, everything changed purely by chance. An inmate brought some publications into the prison, including the enlightening The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin S. Sharma. That was when a miracle happened: with each page of the book I felt that my worries were being lifted. Every page seemed to have an invisible power to lift my spirits. I was like a lost sheep that had found the light. I really enjoy reading this book and it get me through a dark period in my life."

Writer Ho Huy Son, who currently works at the Saigon Cultural Publishing House, said he and his co-workers were moved when they read Khoi's letter, and decided to donate more books to Dong Gang Prison at a ceremony that took place on January 20.

An intimate enjoys reading book. — Photo

At the same time, the intimates of Dong Gang Prison also received 3,000 Chicken Soup for the Soul books from the Tri Viet Publishing House.

Many other individuals and enterprises also have joined hand to donate books to the prison, including Gian Truan Chi La Thu Thach (Up and Down is just a Challenge) and Tim Lai Tinh Yeu Cuoc Song (Finding a Love for Life).

Khoi has recently been appointed librarian at Dong Gang Prison.

Reader today, writer tomorrow

Before penning her debut book and releasing The Memoirs of Tam Sida  - Overcoming Death in March 2012, Truong Thi Hong Tam, whose nickname is Tam Sida, had spent years living in different rehabilitation centres.

Tam, who suffers from HIV, is now a regular guest at book donation ceremonies because inmates are interested in her story.

"They are fascinated by a real person with a real story," said Son.

Tam said she and other inmates were hungry for books, and shared them between each other for everyone to enjoy.

"Sometimes the prison guards lend us interesting books for us to read," she said.

According to some prison officers, prison libraries were small and few and far between. That's why the book donation were always well received.

To cheer up the inmates, Phuoc from Tri Viet Publishing House tells them that "every saint has a past, every sinner has a future" – words of wisdom by Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde.

As well as sharing her own story, Tam encourages prisoners by saying: "Doing good or bad is our choice. We can do whatever we want. Although we have done bad things in the past, we can still do good things in the future."

"After talking with me, some of them say they want to be like me. I wonder whether they will become writers," Tam said happily.

Having visited many prisons and rehabilitation centres, Tam realises that books have become soulmates for many female prisoners.

"Good books help them to realise the real meaning of life, and look forward to good things in the future. Every person has good inside them," she said.

Son said the image of a long line of female inmates standing by the fence to receive books and even the authors' signature was not something she was likely to forget. — VNS

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