Book Donations Project a B.I.G. Deal for Inmates
The Capital

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"It is fundamental for me. It changed my life," said Thomas Lane. The 43-year-old former inmate spoke this week in Jessup, where Parole Rotary's Books for International Goodwill donated hundreds of books to the state's prison system libraries.

Lane served 10 years at the Eastern Correctional Institution on drug charges. Early on, he wandered into the prison library.

"The only reading I was doing was the menu at McDonald's ordering a Big Mac and fries," he said. "The library opened doors for me, and I discovered potential within myself that I didn't recognize."

The B.I.G books program donated about 900 books to the prison program this week. It's not B.I.G.'s first donation to the Reading Academy programs at Maryland institutions.

"We are excited about this contribution and continuing this relationship," said B.I.G. Director Steve Frantzich, a U.S. Naval Academy professor. He encouraged the prison system's librarians to visit the organization's warehouse in Annapolis to choose books suited to inmates' needs.

B.I.G. has shipped 5.6 million books around the country and the world to pursue its mission to improve literacy in developing communities. The program, started by the Parole Rotary Club of Annapolis, it is now an independent nonprofit.

The programs have the potential to change inmates' lives, said Gary Maynard, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

"Many of our inmates did not do well in school, but it doesn't not mean they are not smart," Maynard said at Maryland Correctional Enterprises, or MCE, headquarters in Jessup.

"They might have had a learning disability or did not come from homes that were (conducive) to learning. They might have been distracted (by) girls ... cars or drugs."

Through prison enterprises shops such as printing and furniture making, inmates can find jobs in which they can learn a trade or skill that helps once they are paroled.

But reading is a key. Prisoners can't qualify for one of the jobs without having a high school diploma or passing the equivalency test. "That encourages inmates to learn to read ... and get their GED," Maynard said.

That was the first step for Lane. He then enrolled in a trade program, becoming a typesetter and learning graphics arts. His reading skills also moved him to become a tutor in the graphics program and in the Reading Academy.

Now out of prison, Lane works at MCE while going to school part-time and holding down a 3.5 grade-point average.

"They say reading can help make a dramatic change in the life of an incarcerated man or woman," Lane said. "You are looking at a living, breathing example."