What: Books 2 Prisoners
Film by: UNO student and filmmaker Oliver Steininger
Editor’s Note: NolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöp, pairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum that results in a short documentary. This short documentary was made by Oliver Steininger, a student in the Film and Theatre Department at the University of New Orleans.
“My name is Phil Goddard, and as you can probably tell, I’m originally from London. I’ve been living in New Orleans for the past 10 years, and I’ve been volunteering with Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners for the last two years. We’re run entirely by volunteers.
We meet once a week, and we basically open letters from prisoners. They tell us what kind of genres they like — crime, suspense, self-help, pretty much everything — and we try to match what we have, which are books donated by the public. We send out a package of three books, and they’re entitled to one package every three months.
There were two things that particularly attracted me to [Book 2 Prisoners]. One was a political issue because Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration compared to any other place in the world. It’s 13 times higher than China and 20 times higher than Germany. I think this state is far too punitive, and I think that prisoners deserve basic essentials, and one of those essentials is books.
My other reason for becoming involved is personal. George Orwell in 1984, there’s room 101, which is where everyone gets sent to confront their worst fears. My room 101 would be a room with no books in it.
I find the most rewarding job of all is opening the letters. You never know what you’re going to get. It could be someone saying, ‘Please send me three books by John Grisham,’ or it could be someone on death row pouring out their life experiences and telling you in great detail what kind of books they like. Unfortunately, we can’t provide specific titles and authors all the time, but we do our best to send out what we think they might enjoy.
If you’ve done something evil or you’re an evil person, you need to be locked up for a very long time. Society needs to be protected, and society’s rights come before yours, but there are thousands of people in the south that are incarcerated who shouldn’t be.
There are far too many women in prison. There are far too many people in prison for possession of small amounts of cannabis. I just think, as in other areas of society, I think America is lagging behind the rest of the world.
Before I started speaking to you, there was a woman, and she asked for lesbian porn. Normally we don’t have anything like that, and fortunately we had not one but two books of lesbian porn. I like to think I made someone’s day out there in Louisiana.