The first book he read in detention? “It was a novel, The Blue-Eyed Sisters of Marie Sizun,” replies Christophe Boutry. “I remember it well,” he continued. We were still in the Covid period. And I had asked a supervisor to take me, somewhat exceptionally, to the library. Once there, he said: “You have five minutes…” So I took this book somewhat at random. This is the first I read in Nanterre. I really liked it, so much so that once it came out, I bought it to read it again. »
” Time passes quicker “
A former police officer, Christophe Boutry was imprisoned from July 2021 to February 2023 at the Nanterre remand center. A stay during which he began to read on a daily basis. A real novelty for him, “occasional reader” in the life before. In detention, Christophe Boutry went to one or two books a week. A bit of everything, essays, novels, thrillers, fantasy…
“You start reading a book, then a second and then it becomes a habit. A need even. When you’re immersed in something you’re passionate about, time flies. Which is crucial when you spend 22 hours a day in your cell. In prison, the book is a look outwards, “says the former policeman who, because of this status, was alone in the cell. “It helps to read. Because it’s harder to concentrate if you’re with one or two cellmates who watch TV all day. »
Libraries powered by donations
According to the prison administration, 98.8% of prisons in France have at least one library. And half of them (44%) have “neighborhood” libraries. This facilitates access to books. “A prison is sometimes very big. And it’s impossible to bring all the inmates to one central library. Supervisors do not have the means to manage all these comings and goings. It is therefore important to have libraries in the different areas of the prison, as close as possible to the detainees”, underlines Lena Sarrut, director of the association Lire C’est Vivre, established since 1987 at the prison of Fleury-Merogis.
These prison libraries are supplied by associations but also by the prison administration, which has entered into a partnership with the Public Information Library of the Center Pompidou in Paris to collect books. “In 2022, the donation campaign made it possible to redistribute nearly 2 tons of books in around twenty establishments”, specifies the prison administration, adding that reading in detention is a priority “to promote reintegration and fight against recidivism.
To get books, there are also visits. “But at each parlor, your family cannot bring you more than three books. So you have to choose carefully when you order from them. Me, I bet on the classics to be sure not to be disappointed. The first books I asked my family for were Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov and The Player,” recalls Christophe Boutry, who also frequented the small library in his neighborhood a lot.
Librarian in prison
“It was an inmate who was in charge of managing it. When he left in May 2022, I was able to take his place, ”says the one who then became a librarian. “I tried to make it a welcoming place. I was able to bring in an old sofa to set up a reading corner for the inmates who came to borrow a book. I wanted them to enjoy coming. »
And like any good librarian, Christophe Boutry could recommend a book to some or try to give others a taste for reading. “I saw people arriving for whom reading was absolutely not self-evident. So I was going gradually. To some, I first recommended comics to then take them to something else. Very often, as a first book, I also recommended The Little Prince. Many inmates were proud to leave with it. They said to me: “This is a classic, this is a book that everyone has read.” In a way, they entered into a universal community of readers of which they would not have imagined being able to be part. »
“We have to take it step by step”
Read to access a sometimes unknown world, that of words. “Prison is a place where you should never show your weaknesses,” says Christophe Boutry. And those linked to a lack of education are the most difficult to hide with violence or invective. In this context, with some prisoners, you have to go step by step when you try to introduce them to reading. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. »
In detention, Christophe Boutry also discovered the association Reading to get out, which offers personalized reading programs. “A volunteer makes you choose a book from a catalogue. The following week, she brings it to you. Once you’ve read it, you have to do a little reading sheet. But what struck me was that it was always new books, bought in bookstores by the association, that the volunteer gave us. New books and ours. This is important, because a book is also a beautiful object. It was important to have ‘my’ books everywhere in my cell”, explains Christophe Boutry, before confiding that, the day of his release, he walked through the doors of the remand center with “two large bags filled with books”. To take home, to his own library.