Books can change the world: 3 places you can donate books and money to help people in prison

Because everyone deserves access to the power of books.

Online book culture is full of memes, selfies, and funny stories celebrating our shared love of reading; we all know how wonderful it feels when we read a good book and when we recommend a good book to others. That’s why when I give to charity, I often try and support book-related organizations. Reading changes lives, but it’s a need that’s often neglected when we think about charitable giving.

Charitable giving also seems to miss the importance of supporting people in prisons. Prison is an incredibly isolating and alienating experience, and however you feel about the criminal justice system, I hope we can agree that people in prison deserve the amazing, transformative power of books just as much as we do on the outside. (I also hope you think critically about what it means when a society locks millions of people in a box for years at a time, especially for nonviolent crimes, but that’s a post for another day.)

So, inspired by Twitter user @prisonculture‘s birthday wish–book donations to Liberation Library, which provides books to youth in prison–I thought I’d put together a list of organizations I really love that are doing this work.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve chosen to highlight three organizations (including Liberation Library) that work to put books in the hands of people in prison around the United States. These are all places I’ve either donated to already or plan to support in the future.

1. Liberation Library

  • Website: www.liberationlib.com
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Target population: Youth in prison
  • Mission statement: “Liberation Library provides books to youth in prison to encourage imagination, self-determination and connection to the outside worlds of their choosing. We believe access to books is a right, not a privilege. We believe books and relationships empower young people to change the criminal justice system.” –from their About page.
  • How it works: Twice a month, Liberation Library packs packages with books, notes, and even birthday cards for youth in prison. Your donations go primarily towards purchasing books and postage.
  • Ways to help:
    • Purchase books through their Amazon wishlist,
    • Donate money,
    • Volunteer to help pack books at their Chicago location.

2. Minnesota Women’s Prison Book Project

  • Website: www.wpbp.org
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Target population: Women and transgender people in prison
  • Mission statement: “Since 1994, the Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP) has provided women and transgender persons in prison with free reading materials covering a wide range of topics from law and education (dictionaries, GED, etc.) to fiction, politics, history, and women’s health. We are an all-volunteer, grassroots organization. We seek to build connections with those behind the walls, and to educate those of us on the outside about the realities of prison and the justice system.” –from their About page.
  • How it works: The Minnesota Women’s Prison Book Project fields requests from prisoners in several prisons around the country and matches books from their “library” to send back. They also have a Midwest Trans Prisoner Penpal Project.
  • Ways to help:
    • Purchase frequently-requested books from their wishlist (via Boneshaker Books, a local indie bookstore),
    • Donate money,
    • Donate your used softcover books, especially dictionaries (guidelines here),
    • Volunteer to help pack books every Sunday afternoon at Boneshaker Books.

3. Prison Book Program

  • Website: www.prisonbookprogram.org
  • Location: Quincy, MA
  • Target population: General (anyone in prison can request books)
  • Mission statement: “Prison Book Program mails books to people in prison to support their educational, vocational and personal development and to help them avoid returning to prison after their release. We also aim to provide a quality volunteer experience that introduces citizens to issues surrounding the American prison system and the role of education in reforming it.” –from their Mission & Values page.
  • How it works: Prison Book Program is similar to the previous two organizations on this list, but they’re a larger and more general organization. People on the outside request books for loved ones on the inside by mail and books are then mailed directly to the prison.
  • Ways to help:

All of these organizations encourage you to get involved locally and often have lists of “sister” organizations. BookRiot also has an excellent list of prison book organizations.

What are your favorite book-related charities? Please share in the comments, and let’s share the love of books as far and wide as we can this year.

2 thoughts on “Books can change the world: 3 places you can donate books and money to help people in prison”

  1. Great resources! I’m a big fan of the Little Free Library movement…it seems like I’m always either picking up or leaving behind copies of great books whenever I’m on travel.

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    1. I’m a huge fan of Little Free Libraries as well! There are literally dozens in my neighborhood and people tend to be very generous with what they put inside (nice hardcover editions of recent books, etc.). I see people stop and pick up books all the time–including, memorably, a bus driver who pulled over his bus–and it always makes me smile.

      Like

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