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Bernie Madoff Devouring Danielle Steel Novels Behind Bars

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When asked by the Financial Times how he whiles away his time at Butner Federal Correctional Institution, Bernie Madoff responded, "I spend most of my time in my room, reading...and this is my secret -- Danielle Steel. Yes, Danielle Steel."

While Madoff didn't list his favorite titles specifically, we do know what sort of reading material is not allowed by the US Bureau of Prisons:

INCOMING PUBLICATIONS: Newspapers, hard and soft-covered books and magazines must come directly from the publisher, book store or book club. You may not have in your possession, or receive in the mail, more than five (5) books or three (3) magazines in one parcel. Any envelope or packages that contain multiple publications must be clearly marked on the outside of the package or envelope, indicating the nature of the contents. All other packages will be returned to sender unless a package authorization is received in the mailroom.

Federal inmates may not receive sexually explicit publications. Commercial publications received in the Mail Room intended for delivery to inmates which feature depictions of nudity or sexually explicit conduct will not be distributed. Refer to Institution Supplement 5800.10B, Mail Management, for additional information regarding restrictions related to sexually explicit commercial publications.

You are not permitted to receive through the mail a personal photograph in which the subject is nude, or partially nude, or where the photo depicts sexually suggestive acts.

Since it's not particularly feasible to order your bodice-rippers directly from Amazon (AMZN) or Barnes & Noble (BKS) when you have no Internet access, Madoff is likely checking his reading material out of the prison library. I spoke with David Dube, library technician at Michigan's Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility about the ins-and-outs of literature behind bars.

Dube said that if e-readers such as the Kindle or Nook were modified to prevent inmates from getting online, it would save correctional agencies a fortune in the long-run.

"The attrition level on books is extreme at maximum security prisons like this one," he said. "They just tear the books apart. Inmates in segregation will flush paperback books down the toilet in order to flood the cell. Heavy books can be used as a weapon. Paper can be a fuel source for a fire. For that reason alone, it makes sense to go digital."

But then, certain things don't make a tremendous amount of sense in the parallel universe that is the US prison system. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has banned inmates from reading books by Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, William T. Vollmann, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, Edwidge Danticat, Dave Barry, Hunter S Thompson, Carl Hiassen, and John Updike -- as well as four John Grisham novels and Jon Stewart's "America; A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction," which is on the no-read list for sexually explicit images.

The Austin American-Statesman reported last year that "art has proved especially tricky to regulate" and "in an effort to separate art from child porn, reviewers have come up with a test: If a naked child has clearly visible wings, it is a legitimate cherub and the book can stay. No wings? It must go.

"If he is naked, the Baby Jesus would be denied," Tammy Shelby, a program specialist for the Texas Mail System Coordinators Panel said.

The paper notes that Jenna Bush's "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope" made the banned list in November 2008, followed by a prohibition against "The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster and Win More Business."


"Could be used to persuade others," came the answer.
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