Banned Books in the Texas Prison System

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This week’s Hair Balls column takes a look at the wacky world of book-banning in the Texas prison system. It’s a world where accounts of caning women or dripping wax on them do not count as S&M, where former Senator Bob Dole is a child pornographer and “Letters to Penthouse” can be fine unless they involve even a single episode of lesbian loving.

Go click and read it, and then come back here for some further highlights we didn’t have space for, all taken from the paperwork banning or approving books in 2007:

-- The “SEI” denial acronym (“Sexually explicit image”) crops up regularly, for Penthouse, Playboy and, say, a book called Blonde: Masterpieces of Erotic Photography. Also banned for SEI was The Cultivated Gardener: Fruits, which Amazon describes as “one of a series of gardening gift books…[with] full-color reproductions of fruits from fine art masterpieces.” Pornographic fine-art masterpieces, apparently.

-- Banned because they included descriptions of “criminal schemes”: issues of Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest. Not banned, apparently because they include absolutely nothing resembling a description of a criminal scheme: Gangsters of Harlem, or Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers, or The Brothers Bulger (about the real-life guy Jack Nicholson’s The Departed character was based on).

-- Further odd magazine bans: an issue of O Magazine, for having a sexually explicit image (Shame on you, Oprah!) and Seventeen magazine, for “fighting techniques.”

-- Most poignant approval: Why Are So Many Black Men in Prison?, by Demico Boothe.

As you see in the column, the TDCJ wouldn’t answer our several questions about all these books. After deadline, however, they told us to submit our questions in writing and they would respond. So keep an eye out for updates. – Richard Connelly

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