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Maryland DOC Suspends Volunteer, Drops Literature Program

Mikita Brottman led a reading and discussion group for nine Maryland prisoners serving life sentences at the Jessup Correctional Institution. A professor of literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art and a psychoanalyst, Brottman volunteered her time for two hours a week, a few weeks out of the year for four years. Prisoners in the group read classic works by George Orwell, Joseph Conrad, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare and other well-known authors.

Recently, however, her volunteering privileges were suspended and the program was discontinued by prison officials.

HarperCollins published Brottman’s memoir about the program – entitled The Maximum Security Book Club – in June 2016. The Baltimore Sun published a profile on Brottman the following month. Three weeks later, on August 15, 2016, she received an email from an assistant warden at Jessup that informed her she had broken a rule and could not return to the prison.

Brottman tried to contact the assistant warden for an explanation but received no response, so she wrote to Shari Elliker, director of communications and volunteer and religious services for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Elliker responded by email, saying “facilities reserve the right to sign up or terminate volunteers autonomously, and do not have to offer explanations for such actions.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Rodricks reached out to Elliker for comment on her response to Brottman, and reported that Elliker claimed Brottman had not received official permission to write the book, and that Jessup administrators had “concerns over the relationships that she has developed with offenders, as evidenced in her publications.”

“Maybe they felt I was too bonded with the men. But the idea that you can work with nine men for four years and make transformations without bonding is, to be honest, absurd,” Brottman stated. She also said she had followed the applicable rules when writing her book, including obtaining media releases from prisoners, changing their names and complying with victim notification requirements.

To no avail; she remains barred from continuing the reading program.


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