Book lovers send books to inmates, hoping to cheer them on

Book lovers send books to inmates, hoping to cheer them on

Translated by BeWater HK on May 16, 2022

Each inmate is allowed to receive six books or magazines per month. Betty (in the photo) and her friends help families of the inmates compile booklists, acquire and send out the books.

Picture created by Ming Pao, Source: provided by interviewee

Popular books among the inmates:

1. Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustices [A Benforado]

2. Long Walk to Freedom [N Mandela]

3. The Power of the Powerless [V Havel]

4. Trilogy of Introductory Philosophy [Corrupt the Youth]

5. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea [Barbara Demick]

6. Break Up Store [Yan Kin Leung, aka Koo Yap]

Other categories: Language textbooks; no-equipment workouts; detective fictions; photobiographies.

While Lunar New Year is a time to pass on good wishes to each other, a group of volunteers do not mind the unlucky pronunciation of books (which has the same pronunciation of “to lose” or “’fail” in Cantonese) and assist families of inmates to prepare booklists. This group view themselves as someone who knows books. Knowing the inmates’ families are already busy with acquiring day-to-day supplies for the inmates, the volunteers share the burden to organize the books for them. They hope this can encourage the inmates to keep learning for the future. “The knowledge will empower them to face the future.” When discussing the good books for beginners, the ladies in the group (who are big fans of literary books) mentioned detective fictions by Keigo Higashino and bibliography of Nelson Mandela. However the popular books are certainly photobiographies of charming ladies.

Since the beginning of last year (2021), mid-month is the busiest time for Betty (fake name) and other volunteers. After having picked about a dozen books from a sea of books, the volunteers will have a cursory glance of the book and write a short introduction. Together with photos of the book covers, an illustrative booklists will be complied for family members to send to the inmates.

Homemade “Dim Sum Order Form” for inmates to choose from

Betty and her teammates are fond of arts and literary writings. However for compilation of the booklists, they will cover books from all categories, especially those easier to comprehend. “After all, reading is not everyone’s tea.” The January booklist (last month) contains a book about the Hong Kong entertainment business. The introduction reads: “The author examines the state of Hong Kong by analyzing current incidents and trends in the entertainment industry covering from Mirror, Error, Come Home Love, Ip Man, Louis Koo to Bondy Chiu.” The booklist also has “The Shortest History of Europe” by John Hirst, an Australian historian.

Betty’s group nicknamed the booklists as a Dim Sum Order Form because “you only need to tick the boxes of what you want.” Once the filled-in booklists from the inmates are received, the group would change to a dispensary mode and deliver the books via the family members. “Sometimes when other inmates see these deliveries, they contact us via their families (for books). Other times some parents want their imprisoned children to read more and thus contact us.” The group also collects book donations. Some books are pre-loved while some are brand new.

Collecting book donations for families to send to the inmates

They had once tried to promote arts and literary books but received lukewarm responses. Then to their surprise they realized web fictions, workout books and English textbooks are hot. “However the most popular ones must be photobiographies.” A photobiography featuring a lady in hot pants was found in the pile of books. They joked that was the only one left. Betty explained that experience tells pictures of exposed breasts will be rejected. However for scantily dressed models, there is a higher chance to “pass”.

“Other books include detective fictions, suspense books such as by Keigo Higashino or Koo Yap. Some social sciences books are “Unfair” and the bibliography of Nelson Mandela,” said Betty, counting her treasures. A few of her friends went into jail in the past years. “Some are unhappy and will indulge themselves in another world through detective fictions. My friend Jimmy SHAM likes poems very much, so is Tiffany YUEN.”

Book lover Betty understands the inmates’ families are already busy with and exhausted by the acquisition of day-to-day supplies for the inmates. They probably do not have time and energy to source books. Therefore the group volunteers to share some of the burdens to organize books for the inmates. They hope this can encourage the inmates to keep learning for the future. “The knowledge will empower them to face the future.” Pausing for thoughts, she continued, “I hope this is a time for learning and self-improvement (for the inmates)! The road ahead is long. Hong Kong still has many unfinished tasks.”

About 70 families have benefitted

So far Betty and her friends have helped around 60 to 70 family members of the inmates. She said they now face more difficulties than when they first started. For example they are no longer allowed to send the booklists. Easy days of “tick, tick and tick” are over. “We have no alternatives. Without them (the booklists), the inmates need to work it out the harder way.”


2022.02.07 Ming Pao

Journalist: KWAN Yuk Ting