There’s not much to read for inmates who know only Spanish at the Arizona State Prison at Florence library.
But an Apache Junction couple, who publish a monthly community action magazine out of their home, are working to change that. They are behind a drive to get Spanish reading materials to the prison, where many of the inmates are Mexican and Central American nationals.
"We started something," said Yoli Hernandez, who publishes the magazine Barriozona along with her husband, Eduardo. "This time it’s the prison, but maybe next time the schools."
With the approval of the prison, the bilingual journal of ideas, art, culture and other social issues will soon deliver 320 issues of the magazine to the prison each month, she said. The 5-month-old Barriozona grew out of the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues, which offers alternative education courses and seminars on diverse social issues.
A prison librarian at Florence confirmed that Spanish language books are hard to come by.
"I mean, Hispanic books and magazines in the (prison) library are like gold," librarian Jo Ann Hewitt said. Mesa P ublic Library outreach librarian Maria Hernandez, no relation to the couple, said she was contacted by Barriozona, and she plans to purchase some of the discarded books the library sells and donate them to the prison.
"I think it’s a good Idea," Hernandez said. "It never occurred to me there were no books for Spanish-speaking inmates."
Yoli Hernandez said the idea for the Libros Libres, or free books, program stemmed from a call last month from Laro Nicol, a Tempe activist recently released from Florence while he awaits trial on federal weapons charges. Nicol told the Tribune last week he discovered the prison had little or no literature in Spanish, although it is the sole language of many inmates.
Barriozona, which relies solely on contributors for content, prints about 5,000 copies per month, and to say it is produced on a shoe-string budget is an understatement, Hernandez said.
"We don’t even have enough money to print it," she said, adding that the fact the magazine reaches its readers each month is solely "by the grace of God."
Barriozona is free and available at the Mesa Public Library and several other locations throughout the Valley. For more information about the magazine or for contact information about the Libros Libres program, visit