Written by Andy Thibault and Originally Published in New Haven Register News on August 22nd, 2013.
Oprah Book Club favorite “She’s Come Undone” by Connecticut novelist and prison workshop leader Wally Lamb is back on the shelves at the Niantic jail where he volunteers after a social media outcry about its being banned there.
“The decision (to ban the book) was reversed this morning,” said Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, characterizing the move as a “mistake” and asserting the policy at the York Correctional Center in East Lyme will be reviewed: “We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Like others puzzled by the longtime prison volunteer’s book being banned in one of the prisons he works with, Lawlor, former co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee from East Haven, found out about the book ban Wednesday night via a Facebook post by Lamb: “CT DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION BANS ‘SHE’S COME UNDONE.’
“Citing sexual explicitness as the ‘official’ reason, CT DOC has pulled from its prison library shelves my 21-year-old novel about a troubled young woman who goes through hard times and then fixes her life. Apparently a few sex scenes (tame by today’s standards) negate the value of the novel’s message about the necessity of personal rehabilitation. And if that’s not absurd enough, DOC has also put on its endangered list I’LL FLY AWAY, a book by York Prison inmates who are students in a writing workshop I have facilitated for the past 14 years, and which was vetted and approved by DOC before its 2007 publication. A decision on that banning is pending. Any thoughts?”
As of Thursday evening, the post had been shared by 87 Facebook users. It generated almost 350 comments.
“These are horrifying events,” one commenter wrote. “I guess there is no end to the amount of re-victimization that victims experience. I think that Oprah or Rachel Maddow or another media person might speak to all of the issues that these events trigger.”
Most of the inmates of the women’s prison are minorities and victims of sexual assault. Conditions at the prison over the past few decades — including rapes, assaults, theft of inmate writings and suppression of written work — have drawn the attention of Amnesty International, “60 Minutes” and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Lawlor said he had no reason to believe that the banning of “She’s Come Undone” and the targeting of “I’ll Fly Away” was any kind of retribution against Lamb and the prison writers group. If so, it would not be the first time.
After inmate author Barbara Parsons Lane won a freedom of speech award from the international writers group PEN in 2004, the state temporarily shut down the writing program and destroyed computer files. It was restored after “60 Minutes” ran a segment about it.
More recently, Lamb spoke out about unjust sentences handed down against battered women. One of the prison authors, Bonnie Foreshaw, is scheduled to have a clemency hearing at the Niantic jail on Oct. 9, based on a judge’s analysis of her trial as grossly unfair and resulting in an inflated charge.
“Anything’s possible,” Lawlor said. “We (the administration) can set the policy and we will find out what went wrong …Some literature, like the Bible, has sex and violence; there needs to be a sophisticated review.”