In Pochutla Jail: Spreading The Joy of the Printed Word

By Carole Reedy

A few months ago, the director of the Pochutla jail, Lic. Homero Gonzalez Ortega, and one of the inmates, Beatriz Arcia, approached the Biblioteca de San Agustinillo (a tiny library in an equally tiny village on the Oaxacan coast) for its assistance in creating a library at the prison.

Knowing the joy the printed word brings, the volunteers of the Biblioteca enthusiastically threw their support behind the project. Because their small library is limited by space constrictions, it was a welcome time to hone books, clean up, and prepare for more donations. Paulina, a library volunteer and owner of the Casa Magica cabañas and lounge bar, assembled two large boxes of books, and Julien Pardinella, owner of Un Sueño cabañas, happily delivered the books to the jail. Thoughtfully included were some materials to get the jail library underway, such as paper, envelopes, and other stationery items.

Beatriz herself is an avid reader, but the unknown factor was the reaction of other inmates. When asked how the library project was going and what more she needed, Beatriz reacted immediately, saying, “MORE BOOKS! Everyone is reading the 50 or more books you sent, and there is a waiting list to read those.” With such a response, the library of San Agustinillo shifted into second gear and sent down two more boxes of books. And far-flung friends from D.F., Veracruz, Puerto Escondido, and other environs are following suit.

Library in action

Two San Agustinillo residents–Melissa (on her 38th birthday!) and her husband James– visited Beatriz at the jail recently and were able to see the library in action. Armed only with a tin of muffins and two boxes of books, Melissa tells us that the experience was less intimidating than they’d expected, though, of course, both she and James were searched in separate cubicles before gaining entrance. The guards then politely directed them through a cement courtyard where the inmates were talking, visiting with families, or just thinking, each respectful of the others space.

Melissa recounts: “We arrived at the little library, which consisted of a small room with a few shelves, a table that Beatriz uses for a desk, and discussion area. We sat with her and listened to her experiences, realizing that in that tiny room there is much more than a table, shelves, and chairs. The inmates who were wandering in and out throughout our visit had just come from Rome and were about to go to Egypt. They were able to fly or be on the moon. They were dropping off books, but more importantly, couldn’t wait for the next one. This small concrete space felt every bit as much like a library as any other. I hope it stays alive long after Beatriz’s release and continues to bring peace and escape to people who need it most. We are very thankful to have been able to bear witness to something so positive and to meet Beatriz, who is a truly inspiring pillar of strength and determination.”

Melissa reports seeing one inmate reading Dostoyevsky, and Beatriz told us that another young man who had never read a book previously was reading his fourth in just a few weeks. The most popular books are those about famous Mexicans, such as Zapata and Villa, as well as Mexican legends. But books by foreign authors are proving to be popular also.

“Who would’ve thought a simple name and number on a card slipped into an envelope in a book would save my mental health?” Beatriz tells us. The library has helped her through the difficult months of imprisonment, offering her too an escape.

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