A Freedom Reads bookshelf, one of six “micro-libraries” added at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. The program seeks to encourage inmates to “invest in the possibilities that books create,” according to its founder. Contributed / Anthony Cantillo

Freedom Reads, a national nonprofit that places 500-book “micro-libraries” into prisons across the country, last week set up eight of them in Windham.

Six were installed at the Maine Correctional Center’s main facility, one at the Women’s Center and one at Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center. 

Books “(bring) life into a place that can feel emotionless,” said Freedom Reads founder Reginald Dwayne Betts, a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and Yale Law School graduate who was sentenced to nine years in prison at age 16. “They were a big part of how I learned to interact with other people and a huge part in what I discovered about myself. I discovered that I was an educator and a thinker, and books played a huge part in that.”

The double-sided bookshelf at the Women’s Center in Windham. Several books have already been checked out. Contributed / Amanda Woolford

The reception to the micro-libraries at the Windham facilities was positive, according to Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Anthony Cantillo.

“We had our first shipment of libraries and books, and residents were amazed by the story of the founder and his team,” Cantillo said.

“What’s at the core is a building of community (and) to have individuals have access to books and converse about books,” he said.


As of February, 324 men and 81 women are incarcerated at Windham, along with another 76 women at the reentry center, according to the Maine DOC.

Providing incarcerated people access to a wider selection of books will be beneficial in bringing people together, said Amanda Woolford, the DOC’s director of Women’s Services. It is especially true at the Women’s Center, which organizes book clubs.

“Women are so relational and book clubs are a place where we all have something in common and can share our perspectives of the book,” she said. “Women like to have something to connect with someone else about.”

The books were “very well-selected and there’s something for everybody,” and even the handcrafted shelves that house them support the goal of “adding furniture pieces that look residential and less industrial,” Woolford said.

Betts said the 44-inch high shelves, which are open on both sides, were designed specifically to facilitate community, Betts said.

“It’s like sitting at a table having coffee with somebody,” he said, “but instead of partaking in coffee with a peer, you’re partaking in books with a peer.”


Betts founded the Connecticut-based Freedom Reads in 2020 after asking himself how he could make the biggest impact on people currently serving time in prison. His answer, he said, was: “We put millions of people in prison. I would counter that by putting millions of books in prison, and I would do it one 500-book micro-library at a time because libraries build community.”

Freedom Reads has also been a first employer for many people upon exiting prison, Betts said. “It provides them the opportunity to use the skills they’ve learned in prison in a real meaningful way.”

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the Maine prison population has increased by 44% since 2000.

“A lot of people have deeply invested in the possibilities that books create,” said Betts. “This is a project about giving people the opportunity to deeply and meaningfully transform their lives.”

Comments are not available on this story.