Before the allocation of the Goncourt of detainees, several selected authors went to prison centers to defend their book. One of these meetings took place in the presence of Brigitte Giraud, 2022 Goncourt Award. Report.

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The library of the Val-d'Oise Departmental Detention Centre in Osny is packed this afternoon. The gifts are ready on Taylord’s side: bouquet of paper flowers and heart-shaped table, made during the plastic arts workshops conducted within the center will be handed at the end of the meeting to the guest of the day. This one is not just anyone: Brigitte Giraud, just crowned with the Prix Goncourt for Live fast (Flammarion) , comes to meet the fifteen jurors of the latest literary awards, the Goncourt of Prisoners, which will be awarded on December 15 to the winner.

The Val-d'Oise penitentiary centre is one of the 31 places of detention held in France for this first. A logical application for the institution, with a beautiful library and even two years ago considering launching its own literary award in-house. « And today, the Goncourt Prize is here! », one of the group’s supervisors is enthusiastic. To guide the inmates in the difficult task of consultation and deliberation, their three literature professors did a lot of work upstream; the fifteen inmates were divided into three groups to better work on the books in contention. Their schedule is very busy since they received in September the pre-selected works, consulted the presentation sheets prepared by the National Book Centre (CNL) and watched videos recorded by authors. ' It was therefore important for us that this meeting take place at the school center because literature, reading and writing, are the main axes of our work ” summarizes Carole Madec, Head of Education.

A meeting around the main themes of the book

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In the room, jurors and autrice face each other. Yanis, the first to join the group, admits that he «had a nose» by opting for Living Fast in the list. « I chose it over the title and the novel destabilized me ” he admits. In his hands, a well-filled double copy. “ I took notes while reading, for the most striking things He explains before unveiling a very detailed summary of the plot, the characters and the key dates in order to give his comrades who have not yet read the book as much information as possible about the story.

In this book, the author conducts the investigation and tries to understand the sequence of events that led, 23 years ago, to the motorcycle accident that cost her husband his life. Very quickly, questions follow one another around the main themes of the book: death, mourning, regret and destiny but also globalization. « Why don’t you take the book out now? ", asks one. " Did you write it for the catharsis effect? ", continues another while another wonders about the title’s find. "CThese are key questions that many people ask me, explains Brigitte Giraud. It’s a book about the man in my life and you had to live up to that love story. To write, you have to be well, to be crossed by energy. » 

At the back of the room, book in hand, Ouada has a lot to say. « This book did me a lot of good. I’m not a big reader but I got into it right away. Your work will serve others, enlighten them to grieve. » Taylord goes in the same direction. Part of the story is devoted to an investigation into the motorcycle imported from Japan driven by Brigitte Giraud’s companion during her fatal accident. « It’s a book that could work in Martinique because there have been many motorcycles of this model and the investigation you conducted will talk to many people. »

Your work will serve
to other persons,
enlighten them
to mourn

Le Goncourt des détenus, a tool for reintegration through reading

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This Inmate Goncourt Award, launched this year by Goncourt Academy and the CNL is, beyond the literary adventure, also a reintegration tool for inmates. “ This action is at the heart of our business, the prison administration is sensitive to these issues of access to culture and more precisely to literature. We work on reintegration by opening them new perspectives and inmates are extremely receptive », notes Mariella Sognigbe, Director of Integration and Probation Penitentiary at SPIP (Service penitentiaire d'insertion et de probation) in Val-d'Oise, in charge of monitoring inmates.

Thus, through reading, writing but also these meetings with the authors, the detained persons prepare their reintegration journey with this device that promotes concentration, confidence, the reduction of violence and the opening of the imaginary. « This price is like a light that lights up, sums up Aïka Andonian, a nine-year-old literature teacher at a prison. We see them changing a lot in their way of thinking and these books resonate a lot in relation to their personal history. ” The benefits of reading extend beyond the walls of the library. “ Today there are fifteen, but in reality there are many more, points out one of the jurors. This price affects a lot of people because we talk about it to other inmates. »

After the exchange, the meeting turned into a signing session. At the back of the room, Mohammed and Shan, conquered, take stock. « We have not yet read the book but the summary has caught us. Above all, it is a true story and it is what interests us the most. » For Taylord, Living Fast has managed to address themes that directly affect inmates. « In life, we tend to procrastinate, but prison teaches us not to postpone anything and the book talks about the regret of not having done things at the time. It is always a strong moment for us when someone from the outside comes to see us. Here, prejudices fall. »

For Brigitte Giraud, already author of a dozen novels, this meeting in prison is not a first and her first book – La chambre des parents – focused on a main character in prison. « All this seems to me indispensable, it is a commitment beyond writing and it makes sense to be together and to meet. A writer has a responsibility in society and must not be cut off from the world. I never imagined that this exchange would be so intense and that I would be read that way. » A meeting that is both sharp and informative for the group. « It’s like a rainbow with all its colors, concludes Ouada. Even if we have different positions, we managed to exchange our values and to mix. »

Inmate Goncourt Award Calendar

Thirty-one prisons are involved in this first edition of the Goncourt Prize for Prisoners. For more than a month, from the beginning of September to mid-October, the inmates read and studied all the works of this 2022 selection, the copies of which will have been sent beforehand by the CNL. To feed their reflection, they exchanged with the authors in contention during the meetings organized by the CNL, on video or in person, between October 17 and November 11.

This phase of reading and debate allowed each institution to select three novels. This reduced list will be defended by a detainee during a regional deliberation with other centres on 21 November. Again, this small group will choose a new list of three books for the final stage, the national deliberation, which will take place on Thursday morning, December 15 at the National Book Centre. It is there that thirteen inmates representing each regional directorate will have to agree and proclaim a laureate.