with the participation of Fabien Soldini. Paris: BPI, 1995. – 289 p. ; 21cm. – (Studies and research). – Bibliogr .: s. ISBN 2-902706-94-4. 150 F
This book brings the results of a survey commissioned by the Ministries of Culture and Justice, which focused on nine penitentiaries (central, detention centers and remand prisons). More than two hundred interviews were conducted with prisoners, men and women, about forty with staff.
A special social world
When the reading is over, the title, which very simply connects the words “read” and “prison”, place and practice, gets new questions and perspectives. We doubted that reading should take a special place in this “special social world” which is a prison universe.
One of the great merits of the author is to support his analysis of representations and reading practices in prison with a reflection that states the crisis of defining the prison institution as a whole.
From the very beginning, the author emphasizes the tension inevitably caused by coexistence, within prison, two “almost always opposed” logics, the logic of discussion and persuasion (corresponding to the new “humanitarian mission” left to the institution), the logic of discipline and balance of power. .
The policy of developing the reading offer for ten years shows a very clear desire of the public authorities to re-enroll the closed world of prisons in the global society. Reading thus contributes to the device for social, professional and psychological reintegration of detainees, which we want to make capable of integrating citizens into the “ordinary” world as soon as they are released.
Offer to read
In the first part of the book, dedicated to the “reading offer”, where the new inventory is compiled by setting up libraries that look more like those from the free world, Jean-Louis Fabiani strongly emphasizes the risks of naive application of directives, whose humanitarian inspiration should not make those responsible for their application (often external collaborators, teachers, librarians, association leaders, etc.) to the blind to the lived reality of detention.
It is not just a question of the reality of material conditions, which can be very different from one institution to another, but much more fundamental, about the very essence of prison: places where individuals are forced to stay, by force. Deprivation of liberty of a human being remains an act of violence, in all circumstances, regardless of the delayed benefits (chance of a new beginning?) That may be imagined for the detainee. Obviously, we must always keep in mind if we want to avoid, in particular, what Jean-Louis Fabiani describes as the “enchanted” vision of the role of reading, to which we would attribute the power of “relocation”, the almost “magical” power of “resocialization” of prisoners.
We must strive to restore hope, dignity, self-confidence to them, to help them develop new identity markers. All the works of Jean-Louis Fabiani show that reading can be a significant help in this mission, provided that its limits are recognized. Behaving “as if” prison is a possible place for the current consensus on the benefits of reading is both an analytical error and a deception. This would prevent us, for example, from understanding why oversight staff responsible for maintaining order cannot, without training or explanation, understand the benefits of installing a direct access library. Indeed, this type of equipment, which gives prisoners the opportunity to move and exchange, in addition to the extra work it imposes on guards, makes them think of their function in terms of “reintegration”, an “impossible mission type of institution”, creating a conflict of role. from their point of view, as well as from the point of view of the prisoners.
So, to ensure the active cooperation of the supervisory staff, the idea is not to move them away from the security center to which they are attached, but to convince them that reading, instead of being a trouble factor, can make prison more bearable and thus reduce tensions. .
The second part, entitled “Reading Career”, deals with the effect of going to prison on the practice of reading. The analysis was organized around a break as an integral form of the prison experience. Prison “introduces”, is obviously one of the themes of the recurring book, “in a new form of relationship to time and space.”
However, the research shows that most socio-cultural divisions (based on origin, gender, level of education) are repeated and that, despite the ubiquity of the written word in prison (the topic developed in an exciting way in the last part). “Places, Links, Books”), examples of “conversion” into reading are rare – especially if we think of the literary connotation of this review. The dominant way of reading in prison is in line with what we know about the tastes and expectations of the working class, favoring realism and authenticity at the expense of fiction and romance; Guided by circumstances, prisoners primarily use books (legal or general information).
Constipation can also have negative effects on reading. It is obvious that these are material conditions: difficulty in concentration due to crowding, noise, discomfort in the cells; but what emerges from the analysis is that in order to be read in prison, one must be able to “find the meaning of the word in what now constitutes a new framework for interpretation.” Thus, the author emphasizes, “certain books over-revive the feeling of deprivation of liberty. The book itself is not an instrument of consolation, as a well-meaning vision may suggest, which makes it a kind of instrument of salvation whose effectiveness is independent of the conditions in which it can be invested. “
Hope and illusion
However, for those who manage to develop an active point of view about their immediate environment, the rites around the beginning of the reading participate in the appropriation of space and the creation of a specific layout, working on the prisoner’s re-conquest of himself.
Prison does not automatically create conditions for equal access to books. As for the exchange of books and around them, Jean-Louis Fabiani admits that prisoners who succeed, contrary to the prison logic that most often favors the balance of power, rediscover the meaning of the game without which sociability is impossible, are a minority, only a few men. For most prisoners, reading is a practice to which the ideas of loneliness and intimacy are quite attached.
Writing, which is intense and takes many forms (diaries, poems, correspondence, etc.), also allows you to maintain connections and openness to the outside world. He is credited with the power to help “survive and justify.” Jean-Louis Fabiani adds: “This hope is also one of the conditions for the circulation of books in prison.”
Maintaining hope, without creating illusions, is a work on a rope dedicated to professionals who want to develop reading in prison. This paper provides insight into its weight and importance.