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Maryland's first Freedom Libraries to open in adult and youth correctional facilities

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The national non-profit Freedom Reads has announced the opening of four Freedom Libraries at Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup, Maryland, in partnership with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) on Thursday. 

Another 11 Freedom Libraries will be made available at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center in partnership with the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) on Thursday, too. 

The Freedom Libraries will be placed in the facilities' housing units for unfettered access to a 500-book collection donated by the non-profit organization. 

Dorsey Run Correctional Facility and Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center will be the first Maryland institutions to open Freedom Libraries, with other facilities expected to open libraries in 2023. 

The openings will be attended by Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Carolyn Scruggs and Maryland Secretary of Juvenile Services Vincent Schiraldi. They will both speak at the afternoon event.  

Reginald Dwayne Betts - Washington, DC
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The libraries are the brainchild of 2021 MacArthur Fellow, Marylander, and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16.

The Freedom Libraries are placed where people in prisons and youth programs spend guaranteed time: in the housing units, where there aren't barriers to access, 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."

As part of the opening of the Freedom Libraries, Betts will perform his one-man show Felon: An American Washi Tale, in which he explores the lingering consequences of having a criminal record, fatherhood, the power of literature, and love. The show is based on Betts' 2019 poetry collection Felon.

"In a very real way, freedom begins with a book. With the opening of these libraries, we are creating opportunities for daily engagement with literature and a space in prison for reading, community, and imagination," Betts said. "When you're in your cell, you just look out at concrete, a sanitized environment. There's nothing natural there. There's nothing beautiful. The Freedom Library project is not just about books, but it's also about beauty and a level of dignity. We are grateful to DPSCS and DJS for sharing our goal of bringing beauty, books, and people inside to transform lives."

(© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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