Books for everyone - including police detainees

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BRATTLEBORO — For most people, there could be nothing worse than having to spend the night in a holding cell in your local police department, staring at the grey walls, wondering how your life got so off-track.

"When we pick someone up before 10 a.m., the court will see them the same day," said Brattleboro Police Officer Ryan Washburn. "But if it's after 10 a.m., the court won't see them until the next day. And if we arrest someone on a Friday or over the weekend, they sit in the cell until Monday. There are no windows there. It can be pretty dreary to just sit there."

The Brattleboro Police Department keeps reading material on hand for those who are detained overnight, said Washburn.

"Recently, I arrested a woman on an outstanding arrest warrant and she asked if we had any books to read," he said. "We have a few, but when I opened one of the bins, there were only two left and they were both science fiction books more than 15 years old."

That same day, Washburn and Officer Tyler Law were out spending their mandatory one hour per shift walking the beat downtown when they walked by Everyone's Books and a light bulb went off in Washburn's brain.

"We went in and I had a talk with Nancy [Braus, a co-owner of Everyone's Books] and asked her if she'd be willing to donate a couple of books," said Washburn.

"We have all these advance copies on hand," said Braus, who founded Everyone's Books on Elliot Street in 1984 with Rich Geidel. "Our mandate is to read them and then donate or destroy them."

According to amreading.com, an advance copy of a book is sent to "reviewers, librarians, the media, even celebrities to create a buzz about a book before publication."

"We've donated these books before and we are happy to donate them to the police department," said Braus. "It's easy enough to do."

You might think Braus would have found some self-help books to donate to the police department, but Braus thought the last thing someone wants to read while sitting in a holding cell is a non-fiction book.

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"I would love to send stuff that is relevant or important, but if someone is stuck in jail for a weekend, escapism is the way to go," she said.

Braus said folks who get the advance copies are welcome to take them home when they are released.

"We are happy to donate more. We get sent an awful lot of advance readers and this is a worthwhile cause. We would like to be an ongoing source if they need more reading material."

Braus said getting people to read more is part of the mission of Everyone's Books.

"We already have a pretty literate community," she said. "And we are grateful for the level of community support people have shown for Everyone's Books. This is a way for us to pay back the community."

Washburn said offering reading material to detainees also helps police connect with community members in their own way.

"It helps to be kind," he said. "It builds connections, and if someone is reading a book, even a fiction book, and something clicks in their brain, it's worth it."

Brattleboro Police Chief Michael "Gunny" Fitzgerald said he wasn't surprised that Washburn took it upon himself to re-supply the department's book bin.

"Ryan is that kind of guy," said Fitzgerald. "He's very community oriented. He's the one who started, ran with and built the coffee with a copy program. That's just in his character."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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