Saturday 24 March 2012

On Banned Books

This week, besides moving the academic books I own from Royal Holloway to my new office at King’s College, London, I discovered that the first book I wrote myself has been censored in a Colorado gaol. One of my PhD students, Katie Billotte, sent a copy of Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy (1989) to a pen-pal of hers currently detained in a Colorado gaol.  

Alex Perez is a phenomenally committed self-educator. He was convicted at 18 for a drug-and-gang-related murder. But he acquired his taste for reading, especially Sophocles and Aquinas, while spending SEVEN YEARS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, appealing (in the end successfully) against an accusation that he committed another murder inside. 

Crowley Correctional Facility, Colorado
But my sedate little monograph, an Oxford University thesis supervised by the extraordinarily conservative Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, was sent back to Katie from the Wardens's Office at Crowley Correctional Facility, with the following letter:

'We are returning to you this shipment made to Inmate #90704 currently held in the Colorado Department of Corrections. We have determined that Inventing the Barbarians by Edith Hall constitutes contraband under the State of Colorado's Revised Statute. It has been determined by the wardens of this facility that the primary or secondary purpose of the author was to compromise the good order and efficient operation of a facility under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Please note that any further attempts to introduce this item into any facility currently operated by the Colorado Department of Corrections will be referred to the Office of the Attorney General.' 

Katie has since phoned Crowley Correctional Facility, and has been told they are concerned that her PhD supervisor advocates gang membership. My answer to this would be that it depends entirely on what sort of gang. 

I would certainly join a gang which existed solely in order to defend people’s rights to educate themselves when incarcerated and read the great works produced by the human brain in e.g. ancient Greece and Rome. After all, Socrates read Aesop in gaol; Nelson Mandela read Antigone, as celebrated in Athol Fugard's anti-apartheid play The Island.

One such gang, to which we can all send our spare books or those we think might be useful for prisoners, can be found mustering (or whatever gangs do) at 

It is probably unwise of me to write this blog the night before I attempt to enter the USA at an airport in Washington DC, especially since a few years ago I was given a very hard time by Immigration Services at Newark Airport, New Jersey. 

My copy of the Odyssey in Greek was misidentifed by a very young man with a very large gun as a subversive text in Arabic. He did back off, however, when I told him the story of the Cyclops and he recognised a character from X-Men. The Odyssey then escaped the label of contraband, even if the vastly inferior Inventing the Barbarian now hasn't.


  1. This might be an opportunity to do good while having fun. I'm going to buy a copy of Lattimore's Iliad on Amazon and send it to the prison as a donation to the prison library. Prison libraries are always in need of books and the opportunity to subvert anything via the classics should never be overlooked.

  2. I sent it to the warden with a note, donating the book. The contact info is here -

  3. Good work on both counts, Pudentilla!