In 2014 we were asked by HMP Wormwood Scrubs to help set up their first Book Room. This Book Room would be open on a wing and would complement the existing library, to encourage recreational reading for prisoners in an informal setting.
There was enthusiastic support for the project, and the first Book Room opened in 2015. At the start of 2020 there were Book Rooms open on all 5 Wings in HMP Wormwood Scrubs, being regularly restocked with new books from Give a Book, and book donations from publishers, authors, booksellers, other charities and embassies.
“Without people like you who care what happens in our prisons people like me wouldn’t stand a chance. [The] book rooms idea is fantastic, really I can just imagine the impact they’ll have.” – Erwin James
At the beginning of the first lockdown we sent in books to refresh the 5 Book Rooms. With movement around the prison, access to the library and education all severely restricted, these book rooms really came into their own. Thanks to brilliant hard work by staff and residents they were kept organised, with books distributed amongst all 5 of the wings and kept in beautiful order.
We included graphic novels when we could get them, and more foreign language editions of books thanks to donations from authors through the Royal Society of Literature. The Evening Standard contributed newspapers, and we included children’s books for the men to read over the phone at Easter weekend.
We were delighted to hear how much the men appreciated them.
“I went onto B Wing yesterday afternoon and into the Book Room where I found two prisoners staring at all the books slack-jawed with amazement. When one of them got himself back together he said “Guv, this is a most welcome development”. [Honestly !!] I explained the situation and the generosity of donors and the other said “So we can just take these back to our cell and read them ?” I replied “yes” – cue more amazement. However the icing on the cake was when one said “So are there any history books ?” and I was able to say “yes, here’s “The Gunpowder Plot” by Antonia Fraser and look it’s got a personal dedication from the author to the B Wing Book Room at Wormwood Scrubs” !!
We kept the rooms refreshed throughout lockdown, sending more books in late April, more over the summer, and then in autumn a magnificent donation of books and bespoke carousels arrived from the gorgeous Notting Hill editions.
These well stocked and beautifully decorated Book Rooms are a real asset to the prison and never more so than in this time of increased restrictions.
None of this could happen at all without our own GAB supporters, nor without the dedication, encouragement, enthusiasm and sheer hard work of those on the inside, staff and residents alike.
“Libraries are all important in prisons. Apart from books, all kinds of events and projects start in libraries or are held there. However, as we all know, staff cuts have made it harder to get into libraries. Wormwood Scrubs has come up with an excellent answer to the problem: a Book Room on each wing….Unlike in a library, the books are put on shelves uncategorised, as they might be in a home. Also, men can take them out any time without signing anything or, if they prefer, settle down and read at a table….Now, with any luck, prisoners at The Scrubs will have the best of both worlds: the library for books that need to be ordered, reference books or where help is needed from a librarian, plus a room where you can go and grab a book any day or the week and enjoy a break from prison pressures.” – Rachel Billington