Freedom Libraries Open in Connecticut Prison

Freedom Libraries conceived by former prisoner-turned-acclaimed-poet open at Manson Youth Institution,York Correctional Institution and Cheshire Correctional Institution

This month the Hamden-based nonprofit Freedom Reads opened seven Freedom Libraries at Connecticut's Manson Youth Institution (MYI), a facility for boys and young men ages 14 to 21 in Cheshire, CT. MYI is the first youth facility in the country to receive Freedom Libraries, which will be placed in seven of the facility's housing units for unfettered access to the 500-book collection. MYI follows Cheshire Correctional Institution (Cheshire CI) and York Correctional Institution (York CI) in bringing these donated libraries to incarcerated men and women in Connecticut.

The brainchild of 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, the Freedom Libraries seek to create a space in prisons to encourage community and where reaching for a book can be as spontaneous as human curiosity. Each bookshelf is handcrafted out of maple, walnut or cherry and is curved to contrast the straight lines and bars of prisons as well as to evoke Martin Luther King Jr.'s line about the "arc of the universe" bending "toward justice." MYI's Freedom Libraries were made with the help of J.Joiners, another Hamden-based company, and Emerge Connecticut, a reentry organization that works with formerly incarcerated men in New Haven.

Betts' nonprofit is a first-of-its-kind organization that empowers people through literature to imagine new possibilities for their lives. Books in the Freedom Library have been carefully curated through consultations with hundreds of poets, novelists, philosophers, teachers, friends, and voracious readers, resulting in a collection of books that are not only beloved, but indispensable. The libraries include contemporary poets, novelists, and essayists alongside classic works from Homer's The Odyssey to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, titles that remind us the book has long been a freedom project. MYI's Freedom Libraries will also have a young adult mini-collection, curated by teenagers, teachers and young adult librarians. Freedom Reads is working to put a Freedom Library within reach of every person incarcerated in this country.

Following the openings of the libraries, on February 2nd Betts performed his one-man show Felon: An American Washi Tale for an audience at MYI. In this show he explores the lingering consequences of having a criminal record, fatherhood, the power of literature, and love. The show is based on Betts' poetry collection Felon

"The Connecticut State Department of Corrections shares our goal of creating opportunities for access to literature inside their facilities and creating a space in prison for inquiry, imagination, and community. These Freedom Libraries will give these young people just that," said Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads. "With the opening of seven Freedom Libraries at Manson Youth Institution, we aim to give young people the chance to imagine new possibilities and envision what their lives could look like outside of prison walls."

About Freedom Reads:

Founded by Reginald Dwayne Betts, who knows firsthand the dispiriting forces of prison, Freedom Reads works to empower people through literature to confront what prison does to the spirit. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and inspired by the recognition that freedom begins with a book, Freedom Reads supports the efforts of people in prison to transform their lives through increased access to books and writers. For more information about Freedom Reads and the Freedom Libraries project please visit


For more information, please contact Megan Stencel at or (703)-490-8845.

Source: Freedom Reads