A Book Club Jamboree in Red Deer, Alberta with Jock Mackenzie


Red Deer’s first ever Book Club Jamboree was a novel idea that turned into a bestseller. Suzanne Hermary, the new coordinator of the Red Deer Arts Council, has initiated a number of new ideas and this was just one of them.

Representatives of over a dozen Central Alberta book clubs met in the Snell Gallery of the Red Deer Public Library for a three-hour Saturday afternoon session. The audience was reminded of the various literary events going on this Fall and were asked to specially note Alberta Culture Days and the readings of local authors at the October First Friday event.

The Jamboree was divided into three main sections. In Part One, half of the book club representatives were asked to come forward and explain the genesis and history of their club as well as a favourite book. Having fulfilled this duty, each club was presented with a basket of books made up of donations from the library, local authors and publishers.

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The second and major portion of the afternoon was a panel of six book club representatives. Local author, Miji Campbell, was the moderator who asked each panel member to answer these questions:

1.     Story of your Book Club: how it all began

2.     Book Club routines: how books are chosen, frequency of meetings, a “typical” meeting

3.     Tips for initiating discussions; troubleshooting

4.     Most Memorable Meeting and/or Best Book(s)

5.     Authors’ Footnotes (since our panel includes authors, too)

 I had the pleasure of sitting on this panel and representing the book club I facilitate for inmates at Bowden Institution. I was pleased to see such a large audience and particularly enjoyed the names of over a dozen book clubs represented. My favourites were Read Between the Wines, The Happy Bookers, Any Book Book Club, Readers & Company, An Hour to Kill. Although our Book Club for Inmates at the Annex (Bowden Minimum Security Penitentiary) doesn't capture attention with our name, we did capture audience interest with the concept and explanation of our group. 

The audience had a chance to ask questions – and they did – followed by a break for wine and snacks and more mingling and idea sharing. I gave away copies of some of our past readings like “Fire and Fury”, “Song of Batoche”, “Free Days with George”, “Desperadoes”, and “Devil in the White City” in a draw for those attending. I also explained how donations are a necessary part of continuing this excellent program and shared our website information and how to support BCFI. 

Will there be a “Return of the Book Club Jamboree”? Absolutely. It was free, it was fun, and it filled with caring and sharing. 

Jock Mackenzie is a volunteer for the Annex book club at Bowden Institution in Bowden, Alberta. He has been volunteering with BCFI for over a year and his favorite book discussed at book club was “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

A Book Club Meeting at E. Fry

Hi all - Lindsay (Program Coordinator) here!

Left to Right: Lindsay, Meagan, Kate and Sue

Left to Right: Lindsay, Meagan, Kate and Sue

On Wednesday I had the chance to go to my first book club meeting since I started the role of Program Coordinator with BCFI. Our wonderful volunteers at The Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto’s book club invited me to join the meeting on September 18th. E. Fry is an organization that provides services and residence to criminalized women and their families. They provide counselling, employment services, community support programs and housing services. Learn more at: https://efrytoronto.org/


In preparation for the meeting, I bought and dove into “A Piece of Cake” by Cupcake Brown, the book that would be discussed at the meeting. I was advised that it was a tough read - a memoir of abuse, loss, drugs and survival. After reading a couple of chapters, I thought “wow, tough is an understatement.” Cupcake Brown loses her mother at a young age, and when her step-father and other family members are not permitted to care for her, she is thrown into the foster system. With the abuse faced in foster homes, she is forced to run away several times, putting her in dangerous situations involving sexual assault, homelessness, narrow escapes from the law, and drug and alcohol abuse. Her story educates the reader on the problems that exist within the foster-care system, the realities of drug addiction and how difficult it can be to keep getting up when you are constantly being pushed down. The following 10+ years of her life seem to get worse and worse and as a reader you worry it won’t ever turn around. Luckily, once she decides for herself that she is ready for change and recovery after truly feeling she has hit rock bottom, things begin to look up and her story is truly remarkable. 

At this meeting we had three book club members, three volunteers, an E. Fry staff member and myself. I was interested to learn about the book club members’ experiences reading this book - I wondered - as someone who personally has not lived with drug addiction or in conflict with the law, would it be tougher for me to read her story, or tougher for someone who had similar lived experiences. Many of the book club members found this book relateable and understood her experiences on a different level than those of us who had grown up differently. It seemed as though for some members, reading Cupcake’s story was a comfort and reassurance instead of a story of systemic failure and horror. For other members, it was tough to read these experiences and picture them so vividly because they were so familiar. 

In just 90 minutes I felt I had a stronger appreciation for the book and had learned so much from both the book and the book club members and facilitators at E. Fry. It is definitely a book I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who wishes to deepen their understanding of systemic inequality and drug addiction. While it is tough to read about many of the horrors Cupcake faced, it is ultimately an impactful story of strength, love and hope. The book’s weight and intensity only make it more necessary that readers who have had the privilege of living a different life pick this book up and get reading.

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International Literacy Day - September 8th, 2019

This is the first book I have read from start to finish.
— Inmate at Bowden Institution

Our prison book clubs help Canadian inmates practice and improve upon their literacy skills constantly. According to the Literacy and Policing Project, 79 of every 100 people entering into correctional institutions do not have a high school diploma. When people have low literacy, they are more likely to be isolated, avoid engaging in community activities and opportunities and have weakened problem-solving skills. Struggling with socialization, citizenship, problem-solving and communication can potentially explain why such a disproportionate number of prisoners come from a background of low literacy. 

The Literacy and Policing Project continues to report that prison-based education programs (not unlike our book clubs) help increase rates of successful rehabilitation. They note that prison literacy programs can reduce the potential of re-offense by up to 30%. Having gained stronger literacy skills in prison, inmates can often approach job searches and employment with more confidence, and will possess the skills needed to succeed in a steady job. 

Literacy skill-building is a central part of why we are so dedicated to opening book clubs in every federal prison in Canada. Our members, volunteers and donors know the amazing impact these book clubs have on incarcerated people in Canada and we are so excited to celebrate our success and future today on International Literacy Day!

This painting was left behind by an inmate at an England prison after leaving on parole.

This painting was left behind by an inmate at an England prison after leaving on parole.