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Author Bri Lee and the Women’s Justice Network (WJN) have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $55,000 to provide a year’s worth of book club programs for women incarcerated in NSW.

This initiative is part of the larger ‘Freadom Inside’ project launched back in November 2021. Together with the help of independent bookstore Gleebooks, WJN provided over $30,00 worth of books to correctional facilities in NSW. This new campaign will run until the end of January 2023.

Following the success of the first stage of Freadom Inside, Lee said that this “second stage was always a big part of the plan”.

“Community-driven, engaging, educational programs like these are not only entertaining and enriching in a day-to-day sense, they have been proven to reduce recidivism over the long-term,” Lee told LSJ.

“People clearly understand how potentially transformative reading can be for a person stuck inside a cell twenty or more hours per day.”

The number of incarcerated women in NSW has grown significantly over the past decade. Reports show female inmates demonstrate higher levels of substance misuse, unemployment, lower educational attainment, and poor mental health.

Most of the women WJN assists come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and report a history of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse.

The book club programs will be facilitated by women who have experienced incarceration themselves. WJN mentee Ally Colquitt, who was previously incarcerated, said that “reading freed my mind from prison”.

“I noticed that the previous inmate had left a couple of library books on the table,” said Colquitt.

“I picked up an abandoned copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol and began to read,” she said.

“I didn’t know the impact that poem would have on me, and how it would play a part in changing my world view and my life direction.”

I didn’t know the impact that poem would have on me, and how it would play a part in changing my world view and my life direction.

Ally Colquitt, WJN Mentee

Colquitt explained how creativity and reading provided an excellent method to accessing compassion.

“Without compassion and understanding we cannot heal. Without believing that we deserve redemption, there is no hope for change,” she said.

Lee said, “It’s absurd to hope someone forced into the ‘naughty corner’ of life with no positive stimulation or opportunity will miraculously emerge out the other side a new-and-improved version of themselves.”

“They’re trapped doing the same thing, thinking the same thing, day after day.

“Freadom Inside could grow. It could offer such fantastic improvements to the lives of these women and girls, over 90 per cent of whom are themselves survivors of domestic and family, sexual, or physical assault or abuse.”

The money raised will be used to pay facilitators for their time, travel, and expenses. Some money is also required for insurance, audit accounting and administrative purposes.

If the campaign crowdfunds more than their target amount, the book club will be extended to two years in the hope of building a more sustainable ongoing version.

Donations will be accepted up until 28 January 2023. If you are interested in supporting the campaign, please donate here. Any donors giving $50 or more will receive a thank you card posted to them featuring artwork and a message from women and girls inside.