As some in the blogging world found out recently, it's not an easy thing to find out which books the Texas prison system has barred from inmates.
Ask the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a list of banned books, and officials reply that putting such a database together would be a time-consuming and expensive task.
But we found a way around it: We asked for a year's correspondence between the TDCJ mailrooms seeking rulings on inmate material and the "Director's Review Committee" that screens the books and magazines. So we got at least 12 month's information.
And therefore entered Bizarro World.
TDCJ officials wouldn't answer our questions about the list they gave us, so we'll just post some highlights of our findings.
1. Rejected: Sex: Classic Lovemaking Techniques to Enrich Your Sex Life. Accepted: 302 Advanced Techniques for Driving a Man Wild in Bed. Our guess is that the first book includes illustrations and the second doesn't; we can only assume the second book is destined for a female inmate just days from being freed. Right?
2. Rejected: An utterly standard 1977 bodice-ripper called Windhaven Plantation, because of a single rape scene (which, we're guessing, involved terms no more graphic than "throbbing manhood"). Accepted: The 2006 novel 18 Seconds, described by one reviewer as "too brutal" and by Publishers Weekly as being full of descriptions of "gruesome" and "horrific" crimes. But no rape!
3. Rejected: Naughty Bedtime Stories. Accepted: Naughtier Bedtime Stories. Which, apparently, were not actually naughtier.
4. Naughty Bedtime Stories was rejected under the category of "S/M," which according to TDCJ's official list means "sado masochism." But perfectly fine was a book called The Pleasure's All Mine, which involves a woman getting candle wax dripped on her and saying, "'Mistress, may I please touch myself while you're caning me?'...I dropped my head and chest down and suddenly became nervous about my ass in the air. His cock was a lot bigger than the dildo he was pulling out of me." One TDCJ director's S/M is another's typical sex romp, we guess.
5. You can describe straight sex about as graphically as you want: Dear G Spot, by Zane, was approved (Publisher's Weekly: "Zane writes with grim humor and uses explicit, slangy language"), as was Letters to Penthouse XXVIII. But one mention of gayness and you're out, marked with the dreaded "W/H" ("Women engaging in homosexual activity") or its "M/H" equivalent. Other editions of Letters to Penthouse, for instance, got the "W/H" ban.
6. Rejected because of "SEI" ("sexually explicit image"): Pre-Raphaelites: Inspiration From the Past and Vintage Aircraft Nose Art. Thou Shalt Not Masturbate to Pre-Raphaelites or the Greatest Generation!!
7. Rejected: Red Shoes Diaries: Four on the Floor. Accepted, two months later: Red Shoes Diaries: Four on the Floor. Persistence is rewarded!
8. Rejected because of "RCL" ("Racial"): Issues of Time and Esquire. Accepted: The Hitler We Loved and Why ("We loved Hitler because he was a white man...If something was filth, he disposed of it as filth, with sanitary thoroughness").
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9. Easiest Judging Day: June 27, when the titles Daddy's Incestuous Twins; Mother, Daughter & Friends; Sister's Big Bed and Swinging Dad & Daughter were rejected (for "INC": Incest).
10. Oddest author rejected: Bob Dole, whose World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Courage was rejected for "NUD CHL," which isn't on the acronym list but which we guess refers to a photo of a nude child. Bob Dole, pedophile.
11. Worst Case of False Advertising, Ever: TDCJ appears to be pretty adamant about its "W/H" denials, slapping down books left and right for lesbian scenes. So how did Skin Deep: Real Life Lesbian Stories get approved? We can only assume it is a very, very disappointing book.
Gosh. We wonder why TDCJ made it so hard for people to get their hands on the list. Or why they didn't want to answer questions about it.