FARGO — In the 1994 movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne — portrayed by Tim Robbins — spent years trying to build a library for inmates with almost no avenues to learn.
Here in Cass County, a library has existed since 2002 in the current jail, and a former North Dakota lawmaker has started a book drive to freshen its bookshelves.
“Let’s pass a few of these books along to people who need and can benefit from them,” Tim Flakoll said. “The question is, do we want them to be better than when they went in or not? I say yes, let’s work together to make these individuals better.”
Cass County Jail Capt. Andy Frobig said inmates aren’t allowed to enter the jail library, which is the size of a small office, but have daily access to a limited number of books on any subject they want — except disruptive publications like “The Anarchist Cookbook.”
“We aren’t going to teach them how to make bombs in here,” Frobig said. “And we wouldn’t have any copies of 'Mein Kampf,' or histories of KKK. That’s not going to fly in here.”
All donations have to be paperback, Frobig said. People in the community have organized book drives before, and the response has always been “huge,” he said, “sometimes to the point where we have to send them somewhere else.”
Every day, book carts are pushed through the housing units, Sgt. Ben Schwandt of the Cass County Jail said. Many books in the storage library are worn. A handful of puzzles remain on the shelves, but most of the space is empty.
Inmates at the Cass County Jail can choose what they're interested in and keep a limited number of books in their cells. If inmates are interested in legal research, the jail also has two computer kiosks on carts with LexisNexis searchable databases that are updated every three months, Frobig said.
Flakoll, a Republican, is a former state senator who served from 1998 until 2016. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Fargo City Commission in 2018.
He said he believes that book drives for inmates have “direct positive impacts on prisoners,” he said in a news release. Books can help provide knowledge and confidence to change, as well as improving literacy and business skills, preventing substance abuse and changing lives.
“Studies have overwhelmingly shown that prisoners who become more educated while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison,” Flakoll said. “Educating prisoners is one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions to implement.”