Who hasn’t ever escaped into a good read, relishing and savoring books we come to love? I often find myself slowing down toward the end of a novel that has moved me, trying to wring all the pleasure out of the tale as I can, before I’m forced to put it down. Then again, many of us return to our favorite books year after year.

For me, my top two favorite reads are Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. I just finished Irving’s most well-known novel, The World According to Garp, and I definitely enjoyed the writing, even though A Prayer for Owen Meany remains my all-time favorite work of contemporary fiction. Garp made him into a literary superstar, someone who consistently hits home runs with his bestsellers so that definitely brings more readers to his other works of fiction.

Jane Austen, of course, is timeless, and her six works of fiction have enticed readers for generations. I have always been a voracious reader, and I have sympathy for those who were never introduced to the joy of reading a new book, a great escape from the trials and tribulations of our daily life.

In Brazil, in four federal prisons, a new policy has been instituted, saying that for every work of fiction, philosophy, science, or classic novels, prisoners shave four days off their sentence. Some of Brazil’s most hardened criminals can read and respond to as many as twelve works of literature, reducing their sentence by forty-eight days a year.

These prisoners have up to four weeks to read each pre-approved selection and write about the work in a cohesive essay. A panel decides which inmates will be eligible for the program, dubbed, “Redemption Through Reading.”

Sao Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi, who heads up the book donation project for the prisoners, commented, “Without a doubt they will leave a better person.” This true story of the effort prison inmates in Brazil may make to ameliorate their circumstances reminds me a bit of the film Shawshank Redemption where the main character, Andy Dufresne, stirs up prison officials by demanding a library for the inmates. Despite his bleak circumstances and wrongful conviction, Andy lobbies on behalf of the voiceless and anonymous prison community, even for those who will never know another life.

I once read that one way prison officials determine how much space to allot for prisoners can be determined by the illiteracy rates in the community. That’s not to say that individuals are unable to rise above the circumstances of their lives, but it is indubitably harder when they can’t even reach the bottom rung of the ladder of success.

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