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Texas inmates aren't allowed to read books by Langston Hughes, Sojourner Truth, Shakespeare, James Baldwin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Tom Clancy, Al Sharpton, John Grisham, James Patterson, Noam Chomsky, Stephen King, 50 Cent, and countless others.
Hoping to read The Color Purple, Friday Night Lights, or Dante's Inferno? You're out of luck. If you want to read Hitler's Mein Kampf though, you're all good. A fan of former KKK leader and white supremacist David Duke or Che Guevara's Guerrilla Warfare? Those are fine too.
The latest victim of the TDCJ iron fist is Dan Slater, whose Wolf Boys was banned before it was even published. The nonfiction book covers the the true story of two Mexican-American teenagers in Texas who end up joining the violent drug cartels in Mexico and the Mexican-American detective who busted them. But after Texas Monthly published an excerpt of the book, which was read by prisoners, the TDCJ said the book "contains material on the setting up and operation of criminal schemes or how to avoid detection of criminal schemes by lawful authorities charged with the responsibility of detecting such illegal activity." The decision came shortly before Banned Books Week, which started Monday.
"Criminal schemes," which is why Slater's book was banned, are only one of the reasons the TDCJ bans books. They also, obviously, ban books that have contraband in them, as well as books with info on making drugs or explosives or other weapons.
Books with sexually explicit images are banned too. Shakespeare got the boot for a "Renaissance-era painting of a nude Cupid sitting in a woman’s lap" on the cover of a collection of his sonnets, according to a report from the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Books can also be banned for promoting "deviant criminal sexual behavior" or being "detrimental to offenders' rehabilitation." But the standards aren't enforced uniformly; Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, which vividly details the narrator's sexual attraction to a child, is allowed.
The TDCJ also blocks books that were "written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes [or] riots." But the Texas Civil Rights Project says that the rule is often stretched to unfairly ban books. Their report, which was first published in 2011, says that "books about prison conditions, books discussing civil rights and the civil rights movement are frequent targets for TDCJ censorship."
Many books have been banned for including the N-word, which is how writers like Chomsky, Hughes, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, and Sojourner Truth got banned.
The bans affect a significant number of inmates, as Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, imprisoning .5 percent of its total population.
The bans also bring to mind Malcolm X, whose life was transformed while reading and learning in prison. When asked what his alma mater was, Malcolm replied, "Books, a good library."