If a prisoner serving time in Texas is lucky enough to have someone to send them reading material, there's still the matter of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's censors who are sitting in the way.
Author Dan Slater wrote in Slate about his experience trying to send a copy of his new nonfiction book Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel to Gabriel Cardona, one of the subjects of the book who is imprisoned in Texas. The TDCJ banned the book on the basis that it contains information about "criminal schemes" due to a portion where a drug smuggler talks about how to hide drugs in a pickup truck.
That may seem like a reasonable rationale to keep a book out of a prison, but, as The Guardian reported recently,Wolf Boys is one of 15,000 books that Texas has banned from its prisons. Human Rights Defense Center executive director Paul Wright told the paper that once a book goes on the list, it never comes off.
The list is growing, too. A 2011 report by the Texas Civil Rights Project said there were about 12,000 banned books, meaning the prison system added 3,000 more in just five years. That's almost two every day.
Mailroom officers and Huntsville administrators can decide to ban a book based on six categories, according to the project. You might think books containing information on making weapons or drugs would be the top subjects, but the Project found the most banned category was easily "deviant sexual behavior."
Wolf Boys aside, some of the reasons books are (or aren't) banned are downright strange. A history book by Bob Dole, the works of William Shakespeare and Friday Night Lights were all banned—the first two for being "sexually explicit" (yes, that's right—a BOB DOLE book was deemed too graphic for Texas prisoners) and the latter for "racial content." But Hitler's Mein Kampf was found to be hunky dory, as were a number of other white supremacist themed books, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project's report:
Of course, the bizarre irony of censoring so many books about the history of civil rights in the United States is TDCJ allows prisoners to read many of the most vile, racist books ever written. If a prisoner ordered [Adolf] Hitler’s Mein Kampf or National Socialism and World Relations, or David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism or My Awakening, or the anti-semitic “classic” Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer: Official Handbook for Schooling the Hitler Youth, or The Hitler We Loved and Why, they would receive it.
Texas is one of a handful of states with a comprehensive database recording which books are banned, but those lists are not publicly accessible. Wright told The Guardian that states with these databases are typically "the most systematic and organized in their censorship.”
No one's expecting Texas prisons to match d in terms of freedom offered to inmates. But maybe ease up on Shakespeare and crack down on Hitler. That is the most ridiculous sentence I have ever written.