Tess Wheelwright '97 helps launch new initiative to distribute a curated 500-book collection across prisons in every state
Tess Wheelwright '97 is helping launch an ambitious social justice endeavor designed to bring books – and dignity and hope – to incarcerated individuals across the United States. The initiative, called the Million Book Project, is the brainchild of Reginald Dwayne Betts, whose celebrated memoir, "A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison" chronicles his own discovery of the transformative power of books, while serving a nine-year sentence for carjacking.
Tess points out that the United States leads the world in incarceration, with more than two million people currently in state and federal custody, and adds that access to absorbing, thought-provoking literature can both provide escape and restore meaning to incarcerated individuals' days and years. Before being tapped to manage the Million Book Project, Tess worked in Cornell’s Prison Education Program, first as a teacher, then as the program’s academic director. She notes that Shady Hill graduate Mary Katzenstein ’59 has been a pivotal leader of Cornell’s Prison Education Program over many decades, and continues to mentor others who teach there, including Tess herself.
With backing from the Mellon Foundation, the Million Book Project will distribute a curated 500-book collection to 1,000 medium and maximum security prisons and juvenile detention centers across every U.S. state over the next three and a half years. The organization's website, www.millionbookproject.org, launches next week, and Shady Hill will be following it with great pride. #changemaker