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Non-Profit & University Bring Libraries to New Jersey Prisons

Nine Freedom Libraries Established at Garden State Correctional Facility

On May 15, the national non-profit Freedom Reads, in partnership with Princeton University Library, inaugurated nine Freedom Libraries at Garden State Correctional Facility in Chesterfield, Burlington County. This marks the first time Freedom Libraries have been introduced within the New Jersey correctional system. The libraries will be accessible in the facility's housing units, each featuring a 500-book collection.

Founded by 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts, Freedom Reads aims to foster a sense of community within prisons, encouraging spontaneous engagement with literature. The handcrafted bookcases, made of maple, walnut, or cherry, are designed with a curved shape to contrast the harsh, straight lines of prison architecture, symbolizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s notion of the "arc of the universe" bending toward justice.

Freedom Reads is, as I am personally, tremendously grateful to Princeton and the Princeton University Library for their continuing support over years,” said Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts. “This ongoing support helped make possible a powerful theater adaption of one of my poetry collections that we now bring to incarcerated adults and kids in prisons across the nation. It is therefore most fitting that Princeton University Library joins us as we partner with the New Jersey Department of Corrections to open the first Freedom Libraries in the New Jersey prison system.

To date, Freedom Reads has established 303 Freedom Libraries across 37 prisons in 10 states. The Garden State Correctional Facility libraries were opened with a special performance by Betts of his one-man show, FELON: An American Washi Tale, for the incarcerated individuals.

Betts, who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16, created Freedom Reads to empower inmates through literature. The libraries include a diverse collection of contemporary and classic works, from Homer's The Odyssey to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. These carefully curated selections aim to inspire and transform the lives of those in prison.

FELON: An American Washi Tale is an adaptation of Betts' NAACP Image Award-winning poetry collection. Developed during his residency at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, the performance delves into the lasting impacts of a criminal record, fatherhood, the power of literature, and love. 

This adaptation was made in collaboration with Jane Cox, Director of Princeton University’s Program in Theater and Music Theater, and Elise Thoron, Co-Founding Artistic Director of Literature to Life. The show was performed at Princeton in March 2023, accompanied by related events and an exhibition sponsored by various Princeton University departments and organizations.

Freedom Reads, through its innovative approach, seeks to transform the lives of incarcerated individuals by providing access to literature. For more information about Freedom Reads and the Freedom Libraries project, please visit

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