Monthly prison book club shares joy of reading

November 17, 2021

Rachel Estes, Director of Outreach at Canterbury UMC, has a heart for social justice. For several years she has hosted a Social Justice Book Club for elementary-aged girls. "I believe that empathy and compassion should be developed early in life," she said. "But one day while leading these young girls in discussion, it occurred to me that it's never too late, and that's how the idea for a prison book club was born."

The idea is now a reality as Estes led the first book discussion at the Birmingham Work Release facility, a satellite of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, in October.

"We gathered last week for the first time for our book club at Birmingham Work Release," said Estes. "The women were very excited about the selected book With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. I selected a young adult book for our inaugural read as I think the content is mature and accessible but the writing isn’t overwhelming or intimidating."

To make the book club even more inviting, Estes provides snacks for participants. The project is supported by congregants of Canterbury UMC, who donate funds for books and food.

"Our chat meandered between how we make choices, how we select friends who turn into family…the importance of names and from where or who they had received their names," said Estes. "One of my favorite moments was when a quieter woman spoke up from the back. She shared that her uncle had given her her middle name: Denise. We all nodded..and she said 'get it? Denise…Da Niece!' And we all cracked up! What a moment of levity and joy to share!"
The next read for the group is Discover the Keys to Staying Full of God by Andrew Wommack, selected by facility Chaplain Dorothy Presley.

"The chaplain selected this book for me to facilitate in November before we alternate with another young adult book in December," said Estes. "What I love about facilitating book clubs in unexpected places is that it brings people together, it takes away barriers and it allows for stories to be shared. Working with the women at Birmingham Work Release is a monthly joy for me—I'm so grateful for the 50 women who share my love of reading!"

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