The only libraries at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center are law libraries. Inmates crowd in the rooms on a weekday, buried in legal books, as if they're in law school. And in a sense they are. People use the law libraries here mainly to understand their criminal charges, looking for ways to fight their cases, explains Dallas Inmate Programs Director Yolanda Lara.
The inside of the law libraries are like the rest of jail — bland and stuck in time. Prints of famous paintings are on the wall. Typewriters sit on desks.
When reading simply for pleasure, not to study the law, the inmates get book carts. The jail depends on donations to fill its book carts. Of the books that come in, staff checks for pornography, references to violence or anything else deemed inappropriate. Donations usually come from Christian organizations anyway. The result: carts full of self-help books, cheesy drug-store novels, classics and many different types of Christian literature.
There are lots of bibles, in English and Spanish, and then there are books to help people interpret the bible. One collection on the racks is a series of cartoon, graphic-novel style pamphlets, authored by a writer named Jack T. Chick. The pamphlets retail online for just 16 cents each. From the outside, they look like normal comics.
But inside, they tell dark stories about people with loose morals, and the unforgiving devil who makes them suffer for it. In one book, a slave to the Devil tells his "master" that he has loaded a city with drugs, alcohol and "low-grade" condoms. "The souls of all these party-goers belong to ME," the devil responds.
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Later, at the party, a man takes a glass of booze that has been poisoned, and then drops dead. Witnessing this, another partygoer goes home to her grandmother, who tells her to repent. On the last page, the cartoon face of the grandmother tells the reader to stop believing Satan's lies.