The list is filled with books about murder and mayhem, with such titles as "The Boston Strangler," "Death on the Nile," "Mafia Wipeout," "The Danger" and "Public Murders."
Crime novels are in demand at the Alexandria jail.
The city's jail, as most others in the area, depends heavily on public donations to fill the shelves of its inmate library. But for a book drive that starts on Tuesday, inmates were given an unusual opportunity: to tell the public what books they wanted to read.
Some of the 100 suggestions, including "The Boston Strangler" and "Mafia Wipeout," have been deleted from the list by the city panel that is sponsoring the book drive. And one suggested author, Guns Smith, was shot down simply because the author's name was considered too suggestive.
" 'Public Murders' and 'Mafia Wipeout'--those were the two that really hit me," said Mondre Kornegay, a member of the Correctional Services Advisory Board, the drive's sponsor. "I wouldn't want to buy a book like that for a person in the jail."
Despite those deletions--"Public Murders" is out, "The Murder" remains in--the book list has survived relatively intact, offering a rare glimpse into the literary side of the criminal mind.
"This could be my mother's reading list," said Amy Bertsch, an Alexandria police spokeswoman, reviewing a list that also includes John Grisham's "The Client," Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
The wish list has plenty of whodunit books--and "Establishment of Innocence." Inmates also are eager to learn "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
William Shakespeare made the list--twice. So did Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Jackie Collins and Patricia Cornwell are on the list. So is Roget (of Roget's Pocket Thesaurus.)
The goal of the six-week book drive is to encourage inmates to read, which also helps improve their children's literacy, board members said.
They said they surveyed many of the nearly 400 inmates at the Alexandria Adult Detention Center rather than presume to know their reading tastes.
The list will be available at the Super Crown bookstore on King Street, the co-sponsor of the drive, where posters that show a hand eagerly reaching through bars for a book will be displayed.
"I've got a favorite book I've been looking for since I got here: Jackie Collins's book 'Lucky,' " said Alexandria inmate Charles Dixon, 35. Dixon said he found Collins's "Hollywood Wives" to be a very vivid read. "She put me in the book. I was right there."
Typically, books in jail and prison libraries are either donated, purchased by the corrections facility (sometimes using profits from inmate commissaries) or borrowed through an arrangement with a public library. Some prisons will use only books that come directly from the publisher because of concerns about contraband.
Courts have generally ruled that an inmate cannot be denied a specific book unless there is a compelling security issue. But corrections officials make decisions all the time about what books to put in prison libraries, and prisoner advocates say there's nothing wrong with the Alexandria board's decision to remove certain books from the inmates' wish list.
"If I were a jailer, and I were asking the public for donations of books, a book about the Boston strangler is not one I would pick," said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union.
When deciding which books to buy or borrow, it often comes down to whether a book poses a security issue or glorifies antisocial behavior, said Diana Reese, regional librarian with the Colorado Department of Corrections. But sometimes, prison librarians will buy a book that they may not approve of to use as a way of introducing inmates to other books, she said.
Just like the general population, inmates like popular fiction, Westerns and travel books, which help them "escape" their four walls, Reese said. "The inmates do enjoy reading true crime, but we're careful with what we select," she said. "The really, really grisly true crime books we will not purchase."
In Alexandria, the donated books will go to the jail's "Leisure Library" in Room 2S7, where books are loaded on carts once a week and circulated in the jail.
Keeping the library's shelves stocked is made more difficult by a persistent problem: book theft. Inmates become so attached to the books that more than half of them leave the jail with the inmate, jail officials said.
"Here are prisoners getting out of jail and stealing on their way out," said Bertsch, the police spokeswoman. "On the other hand, here they are stealing something that touched them or meant something to them."