Books’ calming effect behind bars

December 13, 2020 - 08:26

Part of the humane policy of the Party and State, the library in prison helps with the inmates’ reform while in detention.



LIFE BY READING: A teacher and officer helping inmates learn via books. - VNA/VNS Photo Quang Thái

Quang Thái

GIA LAI - Heavy rains from the ninth storm [internationally called Molave] to hit large swathes of Việt Nam’s central region have added to the cold atmosphere of the small room at the Gia Trung Detention Centre in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.

But what purpose does that room serve exactly?

At first glance, it may appear to be just a prison cell, one of many housing a variety of lawbreakers.

The dozens of inmates peacefully sitting around with books in front of them, however, convey the answer: the reading room in the prison library, called Tủ Sách Hoàn Lương (Repentant Bookcase).

Part of the humane policy of the Party and State, the library helps with the prisoners’ reform while in detention. Beyond just a place of recreation after work or for rehabilitation, it encourages them to change their behaviour and be better prepared to settle back into the community.

The shelves on the old walls of the 20sq.m room feature various books arranged neatly and tidily, classified into different categories, such as living skills, history, cultivation, comedy, and traditional music and songs.

According to prison supervisor Lieutenant Colonel Phạm Tiến Thịnh, the five units at the Ministry of Public Security (MPS)’s Gia Trung Detention Centre all have libraries for prisoners.

“Each has about 500 books, with most coming from the ministry but also brought in by inmates’ families,” he said. “The units also work with each other and with the provincial library to occasionally add new books to their shelves.”

Lê Viết Hùng, 31, who is serving a life sentence in Unit 3, was a dangerous individual during the early days of his detention, habitually breaking many of the prison’s regulations.


EXPANDING HORIZONS: The library at Gia Trung is helping prisoners change their behaviour and learn about the world. - VNA/VNS Photo Quang Thái

After discovering books, however, his temperament changed completely. The library has become his favourite place over the last three years and the books a salve for his soul.

“I was sentenced to life but now I hope to have my sentence reduced,” he said.

“I like to read in my spare time after work or re-education classes. I think of the books as my best friends and have read many stories about other prisoners sentenced to life, such as Hồi Sinh Trong Tuyệt Vọng (Revived in Despair), Một Thời Lầm Lỡ (A Faulty Time), and Hạt Giống Tâm Hồn (Seeds of the Soul), which were published by the ministry. I also like books on farming techniques.”

There are many lessons for Hùng in the books he has read, in particular how to set goals to live a better life.

“I know from my reading that some who committed serious crimes rebuilt their lives and contributed to society after going through rehabilitation in prison,” he said.

He said he believed that what he picked up from books about agriculture would help him settle back into the community if he was ever released.

His appreciation of the pleasures of reading and the improved behaviour that came with it saw prison officers begin to view him as more trustworthy, and he’s been given the task of monitoring the books that are borrowed from the library.

Inmates visit the library at different times of the day, where they can read or take a book back to their cell.

Hùng is also willing to take on other tasks, such as mending book covers and spines. And whenever he comes across a new book, he gives a summary to encourage others to read it. More inmates have started coming to the library after hearing Hùng’s recommendations.

Another inmate in Unit 3, Võ Quang Tường, 25, is now a regular at the library after barely giving reading a second thought before he was sentenced.

“I was told about the library when I first got here, but it wasn’t for me,” he remembered. “Then, one time, I just went to see what it was like. Slowly, I began to borrow more books and I now consider myself an avid reader.”

He visits the library nearly every day and on each page tries to learn about behaviour and communication.

Whenever he has a book in front of him, he feels comfortable and relaxed while learning what he can.

The warden and the prison officers agree that the library has contributed to “reforming the souls” of many inmates.


FROM THE PAGE: Inmates studying at the Gia Trung Detention Centre. - VNA/VNS Photo Quang Thái

“A lot of them have changed their behaviour after starting to read books,” one prison officer said. “They’re no longer so hot-tempered and aggressive, and are more respectful.”

Senior Lieutenant Colonel Đào Ngọc Sỹ, deputy director of the Gia Trung Detention Centre, said the books have had a positive influence on how the inmates are educated and rehabilitated.

“Reading gives them the chance to learn about things they’ve never thought about before, especially about communication and behaviour,” he said. “Many now have a better attitude towards serving their time.”

“We will continue to keep in touch with the provincial library so we can get new books and encourage more prisoners to start the habit of reading, to help them pass their time constructively and learn a few things while they’re here.” VNS