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Published on November 08, 2022

Gini Grannes

Pierre Advocate Restarts Reading Group for Women in Prison

Gini Grannes knows the truth about reading: it can set you free.

That’s why she shares her passion for the written word and how it can lead to life change as leader of a book club at the South Dakota Women’s Prison.

“For some in our book club, it’s the very first time they’ve been told their opinion is valued,” said Grannes, who works as a child advocate the Central South Dakota Child Assessment Center at Avera St. Mary’s Hospital in Pierre. “The book club is a place where our members can learn to trust those opinions.”

The book club had been a valuable part of prisoners’ lives for years, but the program shuttered during the pandemic. Then its former leader moved from Pierre, and Grannes stepped up for the opportunity.

“I’d always wanted to be in a book club,” she said. “We worked with the administration and on June 20, 2022, we had our first meeting with the new club.”

Grannes’ efforts go well beyond an abstract idea that “reading is good.” Studies show inmates who read and engage in education have lower rates of reentry to the corrections system. Her motivation is also personal.

“Anyone of us could have had less luck in our lives, or faced the conditions that led these women to where they now are,” she said. “So when we gather, we do so with respect and trust.”

Choosing Great Reads for Everyone

When Grannes took the reins of the club, the prison’s library was mostly nonexistent. She took charge of that problem, and sought the community’s help to solve it.

“We’ve had great support from Avera, from Pierre civic groups and we’ve had a number of authors who will send us free copies,” Grannes said. “We have a lot of great choices, yet we’re hungry to get more books.”

The club includes about 15 members. Among their first books was “Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Extremism,” the author’s memoir of her exit from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.” “When we started sharing our takes on the story, we quickly became just a group of ladies talking about books,” she said.

Grannes said the club seeks uplifting works, motivational and inspiring ones or those that are “just good stories.”

The Impact of Ideas on Our Self-Worth

“I’ve had women say they felt grateful to have the club, even after just one session,” she said. “They find the joy and beauty in what we read. Some start quiet and shy, but then they open up. We want them to know: we want to know about you and your thoughts on the books.”

Like many incarcerated people, Grannes feels the club members thirst for reassurance, and a lot of firsts: like the first time someone listened to their ideas, or told them they were smart.

“You are enough,” Grannes added. “That idea is at the root of our experience as a club.”

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