What makes Reading Between the Lines® such a remarkable and essential program is how it gives men and women leaving prison the tools to engage with the world.
— Alex Kotlowitz, Senior Advisor

The Reading Between the Lines® story began in 2013 with one goal: to help women and men make the transition from prison back into society with a novel approach to reentry.

We started working in halfway houses on Chicago’s West Side with a simple premise: you can build the “soft skills” of communication and critical thinking through group discussion of short, powerful literature. Since then, we have led hundreds of sessions and watched people develop these skills.

That’s why our belief is stronger today: Reading Between the Lines is foundational to reentry.

And we’re growing.

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Reading Between the Lines®


  • Reading Between the Lines® reaches 600 women and men annually—a 500% increase in program participants since 2014.

  • What began with just two facilitators is now 20 discussion leaders from business, academia, and the arts who volunteer their time and talent to the work we do.

  • Our sessions are held at 4 locations, 4 times a week, 50 weeks out of the year.

We are expanding our efforts to impact the lives of as many current and former inmates as possible by, as one participant said,  “dissecting” poems, essays, speeches, and short stories.

Many current and former participants have never had a chance to engage with others the way they do in our program—to freely express their own thoughts, have them validated, and hear others do the same.

We’re not a class. We don’t give homework. There are no grades. We simply provide a space for open, guided discussion to listen to each other’s ideas and to engage with works of literature in meaningful ways—to read between the lines!

Learn more about our program here!

Want to become a part of our story? Consider donating today.

Board of Directors

Joan Shapiro, Founder and Executive Director
Mary Frances O'Connor, Chair
Deborah Epstein, Secretary
James Schad, Treasurer
Wilder Kendric Berry, Sr.
Andrea Martonffy
Jan Yourist
Robert P. Scales
Mackenzie Phillips
Daniel Goldberg
Alex Kotlowitz, Senior Advisor