Criminal Justice Chronicle: B is for Books for Prisoners

“Providing books help inmates pass our time in a positive and moral fashion”

If the goal of our prison system is to rehabilitate, then prisoners need access to resources that will help them succeed when they’re released. Books help inmates connect to the outside world; remember that there is a reality and a way of life other than prison; help them prepare for GED exams; and educate them about their rights and the law. Many prisons do not have libraries, and books to prisoner programs – run largely by volunteers – fill the gap. You can find an organization providing books to inmates in your neck of the woods HERE.

The Prison Book Program in the Boston area answers the question: “Why Give Books to Prisoners?” this way:

  • Because a dictionary helped him get a degree – “Nearly 10 years ago I enrolled in a GED class and needed a dictionary to assist me in the class. Another prisoner gave me your organization’s information and told me to write to you about getting one. Well I did, and now, all these years later I have obtained my associates degree in paralegal studies, and I’d like to think you’re sending me that dictionary so many years ago was a contribution to me getting this far in my educational endeavors. Thank you.” – Eugene from Wisconsin
  • Because it helps prisoners to know someone cares – “Your job is literally putting smiles on peoples faces.  I’m smiling now knowing someone cares.” – Luke from Kentucky
  • Because knowing someone cares can change a life – “I never wanted to come to prison and ended up here under a bad set of circumstances. I have recovered from the primary shock (it took over three years) and I am trying to go in a new direction. What you did for me is part of that. I am doing the same thing in here that I did on the outside (help people). ” – Joseph from Arizona
  • Because some prisoners use their time to improve themselves  – “I am trying to use my time here to improve myself. I hope to rejoin society soon with a better appreciation of freedom and personal responsibility.” – Robert from Pennsylvania
  • Because people can discover reading and learning in prison – “There was a young inmate here who just got his GED and had never read a book from cover to cover. Sharing The Lightning Thief with him has created a literary monster. He is now a nonstop reader and is reading his sixth book.”  – Earl from Florida
  • Because many prisons don’t even have a library – “The library in my facility has been closed for nearly three years; unfortunately it remains closed but now we finally have some fresh reading material thanks to your organization.” – Gus from Connecticut

Most books to prisoners organizations have a secondary goal of educating the public about the scourge of mass incarceration and all that is broken in our criminal justice system. As one group put it: “We think that prison reform is a big idea, and this is one piece that we can kind of touch on”.

My piece to touch on is to provide men and women re-entering their communities from prison with personal care supplies. Re-entry is a tough road made tougher if you have no one to support you and few personal resources. If you would like to join my efforts, please visit my Etsy shop. Every purchase helps provide basic items like toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant to students in the Roadmap to Success program in Seattle.

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