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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Big House Books: Protecting the Right to Read in Mississippi

The right to read seems like something that should be available to every American citizen. Sadly, that is not the case for those incarcerated in our prison system. Here in Mississippi there has been a drastic increase in the prison population from 1983 to 2012, a 300% increase to be exact. At the time the Pew charitable trust compiled their data in 2013, there were around 22,400 inmates in the Mississippi prison complex.[1] The mission of the Mississippi Library Commission is to strengthen and enhance libraries and library services for all Mississippians through leadership, advocacy, and service. Should this not extend to our incarcerated Mississippians as well? Well, the Commission has recently partnered with Big House Books to develop a short film to bring awareness to the mission of Big House Books and to the plight of those Mississippians who have lost their right to read.

Big House Books is a non-profit, volunteer organization that sends free books by request to prisoners in Mississippi correctional facilities in order to promote literacy and be a vehicle of change for prison reform. They believe in literacy for all – even for those in our correctional facilities. That’s why Big House Books has set out to provide books to Mississippians in prisons and juvenile detention centers.

Our Public Relations Director Susan Liles, and Senior Library Consultant Lacy Ellinwood have been working with board members from Big House Books on a short film grant called The Magnifying Glass which is provided by Artless Media. The Magnifying Glass works to pair individuals committed to making crucially important progressive short documentaries with humble financial support.[2] The program supports the lenses of those who know injustice firsthand and are able to quickly bring awareness to specific injustices within their communities. In addition to financial support, this grant allows for the short film to be shown at a local film festival. In our state that festival is the Oxford Film Festival. I am happy to report that our short film submission titled “Big House Books: Protecting the Right to Read” was awarded $800 by Artless Media and will be shown at the Oxford Film Festival in February 2017. These funds will be provided to Big House Books for costs associated with making and promoting the film. Social media will play a major role in the outreach plan for this project. The Commission will be calling on its other partner organizations to spread the word regarding prison literacy and protecting the right to read by sharing the film.

It is our hope that Big House Books will be able to use this film to build awareness for their important work and to show that everyone has the right to read, to be literate, to be empowered, and to educate themselves. Be sure to follow the Mississippi Library Commission and Big House Books on all their social media platforms for updates on the film and ways to get involved with Big House Books.

[1] @pewtrusts. "Mississippi's 2014 Corrections and Criminal Justice Reform." Mississippi's 2014 Corrections and Criminal Justice Reform. N.p., May 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. [2] "The Magnifying Glass - Artless Media." Artless Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

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