In 2012, Paul Bourget came across an article in a John Howard Society newsletter about Carol Finlay and Book Clubs for Inmates. He soon reached out to Carol about the possibility of opening a book club at the men’s federal institution outside his home city of Winnipeg.
Over the next year, Paul worked diligently to get through the ‘red tape’ and bring about a book club at Stony Mountain. With his background of 26 years managing with prisons for youth, Paul had extensive experience with the correctional system and could understand issues and concerns ‘from both sides of the bars’. Even before the club started, he knew that men serving long sentences often felt lonely and abandoned – and that a book club had the power to make a difference in their lives.
Paul’s hard work paid off, and in June 2013, the Stony Mountain Institute had their first book club, discussing The Cellist of Sarajevo. Carol flew in to attend, bringing with her a recording of some of the music mentioned in the book. “It was such a powerful meeting,” Paul recalls. He also remembers thinking, “I want to continue being part of this.”
Paul has not only stayed a part of this book club, he also helped establish another club for men in minimum security. He was encouraged to see the impact grow, and the connections that were built through literature and discussion. He praises the other volunteers and facilitators, whom he describes as “fantastic, committed, and approachable”.
“The books themselves are very interesting,” Paul says, “but the process is equally interesting in term of discussion and making connections.” He says his involvement with the book club has been very motivating and enriching personally.
For book club members, Paul says the clubs provide them with “on-going, non-threatening human contact” – something that is extremely rare inside a prison. “There is a desperate need for this type of interaction.” Book club members are extremely appreciative of the time facilitators give each month to come into the institution and meet with them.
At the book club, men feel safe and for a brief time, even free. “The walls disappear for those two hours. We’re visiting each other like we were sitting together in a living room.”