Schools and libraries in Texas aren’t the only facilities that suffer from book bans. Dan Slater’s new non-fiction work Wolf Boys has joined the list of 15,000 books banned within the state’s prison systems.
Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel, as the title suggests, tells the story of two American boys recruited as killers for the Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. The book recounts the teens’ fall from all-American status into the dark and violent world of drug trafficking and staying one step ahead of local law enforcement.
Although the book deals with very real issues that Texas citizens and law enforcement officials contend with on a daily basis, it wasn’t the overall subject matter that landed the book in hot water with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Director’s Review Committee. Even before its official release this past month, a spokesman for the TDCJ noted that it was simply two sentences that led to its addition to the banned book list. According to The Guardian, those sentences were:
Mario purchased pickup trucks from which he removed panels and lights. The trick was packing the drugs in a part of the vehicle where the body wouldn’t lose its hollow sound when slapped.
A quick description in a well-reviewed 352 page book on how to conceal smuggled drugs in a motor vehicle was the ultimate deciding factor that saw Slater’s book added to—and most likely never to be pulled off of—TDCJ’s strict banned books list.
Included on the list of over 15,000 books—a list executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, Paul Wright, notes is “growing exponentially”—are books by politicians and celebrities like Bob Dole’s World War II: An Illustrated History of Crisis and Convergence and Jon Stewart’s America, as well as literary classics like The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Flannery O’Conner’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, and even a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Leonardo DaVinci’s sketches have been banned for their “sexual content.” Given the ease with which TDCJ bans books in prisons, it wouldn’t be surprising to find comics on the list of banned material, especially since their visual nature makes them an easy target.
On the flip-side, books like Mein Kampf, the Nazi Aryan Youth Primer, and even the story of a sexual submissive, The Pleasure’s All Mine, were deemed okay by the review committee.
“The system is so aggressive and arbitrary,” says Slater. “It’s like we’re living in the dark ages.” Moreover, the way that the system is structured explicitly limits the ability of inmates to appeal decisions made by the review committee by prohibiting access to the banned books to prepare their cases. “Unfortunately, the courts have not been friendly to us and support the rights of prison officials instead of the rights of prisoners to educate and rehabilitate themselves,” says Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.
The state of Texas isn’t the only entity that has been criticized by free speech organizations for their overly strict and biased book bans. In 2015, a Tokyo Prison came under fire for banning a manga that depicted homosexual sex acts. And in 2013, after a long battle with Pelican Bay State Prison in California, inmate Andres Martinez sued and won access to the erotic werewolf novel The Silver Crown, which officials labeled initially as obscene.
All-in-all, Slater sees the situation as a double hit for both his own book as well as those who could potentially benefit from reading it. “I believe strongly in the power of knowledge and enlightenment and in what books can do, especially for someone who is down and who feels a connection to a story.”
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!