Freedom Libraries to Open in Maine Prisons

Freedom Libraries conceived by former prisoner-turned-acclaimed-poet open at Maine Correctional Center and Maine Correctional Women's Center.

Today the national nonprofit Freedom Reads opened six Freedom Libraries at Maine Correctional Center (MCC), one library at Southern Maine Women's Reentry Center (SMWRC) and one library at Maine Correctional Women's Center (MCWC) in Windham, ME. The Freedom Libraries will be placed in the facilities' housing units for unfettered access to the 500-book collection. One of MCC's six Freedom Libraries will be dedicated to staff use. The Maine Department of Corrections was one of the first to welcome partnering with Freedom Reads. MCC opened their first three Freedom Libraries on Nov. 8, 2022. 

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." The libraries were made with the help of Emerge Connecticut, a reentry organization that works with formerly incarcerated individuals 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. 

"We are grateful that the Maine Department of Corrections continues to see the value of Freedom Reads as we help individuals to understand the value that a book can hold in shaping a life," said Reginald Dwayne Betts, Founder and CEO of Freedom Reads. "The opening of these new Freedom Libraries at Maine Correctional Center, Maine Correctional Women's Center, and Southern Maine Women's Reentry Center will foster an environment where these men and women can envision their future beyond the cold bars and prison walls, in addition to opening themselves up to a sense of imagination, community, and inquiry." 

"The spirit and empowerment found in books can change lives," says Anthony Cantillo, Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. "The craftsmanship of the handmade bookshelves and the diverse selection of books will inspire residents and staff of the Maine Department of Corrections. Everyone has a story to tell; Freedom Reads reminds us of that."  

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

Source: Freedom Reads