DePaul Students Against Incarceration’s book club perseveres despite pandemic


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

DePaul’s Students Against Incarceration (SAI)’s weekly book club with the Cook County Jail (CCJ) has taken on a new remote format to continue the program throughout the pandemic — which has ultimately led to increased participation. 

“The SAI Book Club originally was an outgrowth of Inside-Out courses, to some degree, and it has played a supplemental role,” said Helen Damon Moore, associate director of the Steans Center. “But today the book club is filling a really important role as the only contact DePaul is having with Cook County detainees at the moment.”

Derek Potts, SAI faculty advisor and archives processing assistant at the John T. Richardson Library, said club members choose books through a vote. 

“Students and detainees are exchanging their thoughts and knowledge, gained from shared readings, to come to new understandings and that builds new capacities,” Moore said. 

This quarter, the club is reading “We Will Not Cancel Us” by Adrienne Maree Brown, which discusses “cancel culture” and its deeper role in society. SAI members are paired with CCJ inmates to share their thoughts on the text after reading using various discussion questions.

Previously, participants read a book over the course of a quarter and met about once a week. The pandemic has caused the club to take on a completely remote format — with all of the exchanges taking place via Zoom and email. 

SAI members meet every two weeks virtually to discuss their thoughts on the reading and compose questions for their CCJ partners. A representative then drops off the responses and picks up the materials from CCJ

SAI organizer Annie Scoltock told Newsline the push to continue the club was in part due to the cancellation of nearly all programs for incarcerated individuals around the state. 

“Those at CCJ have been on lock down, with no time outside or other basic activities they had access to before,” she said. “That’s why SAI felt it was more important than ever to continue the book club during these times.”

SAI was founded in 2017 — with the book club program beginning the same academic year — but this is the first time the program has operated remotely. Potts said despite the lack of in-person interactions, remote operation has helped new members join. 

“There isn’t a physical group coming in where there’s limits on the number of students that can come in [Cook County Jail] at a time,” he said. “With remote [operation], we can have twice as many people brought in.”

Initially only 10 DePaul members and 10 CCJ members could participate in the book club, but the club has doubled in size as a result of the pandemic.

Not only are students benefiting from the club, the opportunity allows inmates to get a chance to connect outside of jail. 

“[Inmates] are literally our neighbors, these are people that are community members that are coming back [to society],” Potts said. “I think it’s a positive to keep communication and keep developing and building relationships and communities.”