The Texas Prison System Has Some Confusing Logic On What Books Inmates Can Read

"Where’s Waldo," "Freakonomics" and a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets are banned. "Mein Kampf" is apparently allowed.

The Texas prison system has a head-scratching list of banned — and permitted — reading material for its 150,000 inmates that bars Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, but allows books extolling principles of the Ku Klux Klan.

A collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets (because it contains nude images of children), Monty Python’s The Big Red Book (nudity), Where’s Waldo (contains stickers), the economic theory book Freakonomics (may cause “offender disruption”) and 10,000 other books are not allowed. Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic screed Mein Kampf and two books written by former KKK grand wizard David Duke are perfectly acceptable. Nearly 250,000 titles are permitted within the prison system.

The twisted list turned up in an analysis of the reading material by The Dallas Morning News.

The logic can be confusing. Some books are banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice because officials fear heavy-duty bindings could be used to cache contraband. Content that describes how to make drugs, guns or explosives, and how to escape detection for criminal activity are also a no-go. Nudity and sexual images are also banned, which makes graphic novels like The Walking Dead prohibited. Atlases are banned because they could be used to plan an escape.

Regardless of the stated rules, “many of TDCJ’s censorship decisions are bizarre,” and some are downright “insidious” and “unconstitutional,” noted a report by the Texas Civil Rights Project in 2011. Banned books include many that are critical of the Texas prison system, the report stated.

The Color Purple is banned because it describes incest. As for Mein Kampf, it “doesn’t violate our rules,” TDCJ deputy chief of staff Jason Clark explained to the newspaper.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that the author of The Color Purple is Toni Morrison. It is Alice Walker. Additionally, a previous headline could have been read as suggesting that all of Shakespeare’s sonnets had been banned; as reported in the story, it was a specific edition of the sonnets. The headline has been amended.