The Bamyan prison library

Last year when Jawid Gharjistani visited his jailed friend in Bamyan prison, all of a sudden, he realized that there was an enthusiastic thirst for new books in the prison: those prisoners who could read and write saw books as a hatch to escape the drilling dark time of their lives behind the bar. With great interest, they would speak about the books they had read in Bamyan prison. A genuine desire for knowledge and books some inmates had touched the strings of the visitor’s heart. He made his mind to do something for the book-hungry prisoners who wanted to learn new things about the world and life and lead a different life once freed.

Jawid came to his close friends and shared his idea of a library for Bamyan prison. Enthusiastically willing to join hands with Jawid, his friends used their contacts to launch a campaign to collect books for the library they dreamed to establish for prisoners in Bamyan. But the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic disturbed their campaign.

In July 2020, Mr. Gharjistani came to Kabul to pursue his dream. In the capital, he went to dignitaries, some high-profile government officials, and those MPs who represent Bamyan, sharing his idea with them and making a try to encourage them to donate funds for buying 1,000 copies of books. Neither the MPs nor the dignitaries bought Jawid’s idea.

But he did not give up.

Jawid, more determined than before, this time went to a charity organization and asked for funds. The charity organization, founded by a retired military general, gave a fund to Gharjistani to establish a small library for Bamyan prison.

As time froze in the quiet corner of Bamyan prison, the book-loving prisoners find refuge in books. The definitive definition of imprisonment behind concrete walls and under attentive watch of the prison guards fill prisoners’ minds with an eternal feeling that captured Heraclitus’ mind: no one can swim in the same river twice. They learn that life is like a river pouring into an indefinite ocean of time. The bygone time never comes back and the future is the only limited asset every human is endowed with.

What Jawid has done for prisoners in the central highlands of Bamyan is something every wise government does for its imprisoned population. Not many official indeed knows how critical it is to educate those who end up in jail. For some inmates, punishment in jail is a life-changing lesson but for others, it is the beginning of crime with no end.

“Establishing a library [for] Bamyan prison is an essential step for raising awareness among inmates,” says Ghulam Sakhi Halamiss, a social activist in Bamyan.

Bamyan authorities have promised to build a study room for inmates in Bamyan prison. To promote a culture of reading, the local authorities have announced that the sentence period of prisoners will be reduced if they read more books.

“The books [we have bought] are diverse by subjects. They are bought given the need and capacity of the inmates,” says Jawid who now thinks to raise funds to hire a librarian for this newly setup library.

“Promoting reading culture will help the inmates learn new things,” says Hassan Reza Khawari, a professor who teaches philosophy in Bamyan.

Like a good feeling that fills a serious reader after finishing a good book, Jawid feels happy to see his thought of establishing a library taking a real shape before his eyes. Though the library is small by size, it is the only refuge for those inmates who are thirsty for knowledge in a dark period of their lives. In the river of life that is flowing towards Heraclitusian end, some inmates in Bamyan prison now read books to correct their mistakes and repair their characters in a small quiet corner called the Bamyan prison library.

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