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Books Behind Bars

Books Behind Bars is an educational program, exploring questions of meaning, value, and social justice, in a maximum-security juvenile correctional center.
In 2009 University of Virginia faculty member Andrew D. Kaufman founded “Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Leadership,” a community-based literature course that takes his university students to a maximum security juvenile correctional center in Virginia.

 

Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Leadership is an educational program in which university students meet weekly with committed youth at a maximum-security juvenile correctional center to explore questions of meaning, value, and social justice through life-changing conversations about Russian literature classics.

Participants discuss personally relevant topics ranging from family to death, and success to moral responsibility. These interactions become the catalyst for both groups to learn from one another and share their most intimate human stories, while at the same time forming powerful connections and challenging whatever stereotypes about the other group they may have entered the class with. Correctional center students and university students come away transformed by this unique educational experience—moved by their discovery of the relevance of classical literature, inspired by the humanity in one another, and empowered to pursue lives of greater purpose and meaning.

Having completed its tenth year, Books Behind Bars has been featured on the Today Show, in the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Moscow Times, on Katie Couric, NPR, and Russian national television. Seats at the Table, a feature-length documentary about the program, has been shown at film festivals throughout the United States, in France, and the UK, and in 2020-2021 it will air nationally on PBS.

Read this piece by Andy Kaufman about how he teaches resilience through Russian Literature with the Books Behind Bars program.

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