Slithers of Jail Bars

In the corner of Kutoarjo Jail (for adolescent) hall, it looks like plastic box is not too big. From the outside, it could be vaguely seen that the contents were not too full. Maybe only half, it could be less.

Some people around him may not know what the box contains. Unless they want to swing open the lid and take the time to look briefly into the box. In fact, it could be, because it has never been touched, above the box is often stuffed with various objects. Makes it more squashed and invisible.

That’s how sometimes the condition of plastic boxes for book containers we deliberately left in LPKA, jails, and prisons. The books that we left there— so that children in prison could borrow it freely and interested to read — takes little longer to meet their readers.

Not always successful indeed, often children say that the book is not interesting, boring, or most often they are unwilling to read because of lazy feelings hanging. Nevertheless, we are not afraid to continue to bring new books. Almost every two weeks, when we visit prison, we changed the books. Replaced it from one prison to another. Therefore, this program we named the Muter Book (Rotating Books). 

Full of Constraints at First

The rotation of our books do not always go smoothly. At first, when we took the reading books to the prison, the officers insisted that the books be brought back, “Don’t leave it here, it will disappear then,” they said worriedly. The officers simply cannot guarantee that the books we carry will remain intact, worried that the book will be damaged, untreated, and even disappear. As has been possibly happen in prisons.

We cannot blame the officers for this. Instead, we were grateful for the attention given to us, but our determination was unanimous, the books we didn’t bring were only to be brought back home. From the beginning we have intended ourselves, we will keep the books so that the target children can get alternative activities and have access to reading books.

Afterwards, with alternative ways we assured the officers when children are given trust, caring for books for example, they take that responsibility. We give them this responsibility to care for and maintain the books. Some are in charge of recording loans, collecting returns, tidying up books, and so on. With that, we teach how to be responsible and give them the opportunity to prove themselves that they could be trusted.

And yes, it’s not as easy as imagined! There are just books whose pages are torn, full with scribbles, even can’t be traced again. We understood that it will be happen, and what we have to do is once again put our trust in them that they could be given responsibilities. Afterwards, the books disappeared by themselves, the book was no longer filled with scribbles, even though one or two books were shabby and torn on several pages. But we are actually glad, meaning that the books no longer sit quietly, but slowly turn to meet their readers. Instead, we were moved, gradually and with a long process, the children began to read the books we were carrying. At least these books can accompany them to killing time.

Why should read?

The days when their prison lives are not always colored. Sometimes, they even just have to keep doing one thing over and over again. Apart from being bored, children will also be attacked by confusion about what they have to do to make time. In fact, adolescence, they must continue to develop their learning ability and their creativity. Children should sustainable receive knowledge and literacy support.

Childhood and adolescence is when cognitive and memory conditions develop. By providing access to reading, we hope to instill new habits to them so later they could continue this habit after free from prison. Thankfully if they can fall in love with books and spread ‘the virus’ to others. We hope so.

By reading books, we hope they would be entertained, can be inspired, and being open-minded about various things. We could not continue to accompany them, we only did mentor activities in limited time. But we hope the existing books can represent us to accompany their days. Even though we have to limit the walls of the prison, we hope they can ‘travel everywhere’ by reading a book. We remember that Bung Hatta once said, “I am willing to be imprisoned as long as I am with a book, because with book, I am free.”

Keep Rotating

We are now continuing to stretch this path, continuing to transmit ‘reading virus’ while hoping for support from any parties. Since 2014, when the Rotating Book was officially formed, we were given a lot of support, both from inside and outside the prison. Our literacy program was fully support by Mr. Eko Bekti Susanto, who fiercely fought for the establishment of a library in Klaten Class IIB Prison. 

With the spirit of literacy, Mr. Eko, as a Chief he did advocacy to many parties to support his idea of ​​establishing libraries in prisons. The tit for tat, Mr. Eko’s idea received a positive response, donations in the form of books were obtained from various parties, including from the general public. Now, the inmates in Klaten Class IIB Prison can fill their activities by reading books in the library.

Indonesian Government through the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (Kemenkumham) also gave a positive signal about the literacy movement from inside the prison. Kemenkumham is working on a literacy remission program that adapts Brazil’s rules about providing incentives to prisoners who like to read books. In Brazil, those who succeed in completing reading a book will receive a 4-day sentence. Within a year, if they can complete 12 books, they can be free 48 days ahead of their detention period.

Uniquely, the system, which came into effect in 2012, is not just asking prisoners to read, but also writing reviews of the books. The officers will assess their writing to decide on a reduction in the sentence. The program entitled “Redemption Through Reading” wants prisoners not only to spend time contemplating their mistakes, but also to bring good habits after free. Peter Murphy, who wrote for, interviewed Andre Kehdi, a lawyer who heads a book donation project for prisons in Brazil. Kehdi said, “(By reading) someone will leave the prison with enlightenment and a broader view of the world.”

The system applied by Brazil is a creative way of transmitting reading viruses, especially for those who are forced to live in prisons with limited activity. The effort to grow the fondness for reading certainly requires a long and winding process. The process that is running may also be circling, like the books we put in on each encounter with the children in prison. However, once again, we believe good things will always meet their path. Like our books, which finally slither between Jail Bars and in the hearts of children.