Saturday, July 14, 2007

Storming the Bastille with Books

Of course, the Bastille was the most famous prison in Paris, in spite of the fact that it was mostly stormed to get the guns that were stored there. In fact, there were only a handful of prisoners to be freed. Nevertheless, the symbol remains as representative of monarchical state tyranny.

Prisons are a strange institution- they seem so rarely to lead to rehabilitation, but we still need some way to remove criminals from the society at large. Societies need to be able to say what it is that cannot be done within their territories. But these laws should also be constantly discussed, struggled with, and questioned to gain from the new wisdom of new generations.

Currently, there are 2,245,189 prisoners in the United States. That's the largest prison population in the world. China is second runner up with 1.5 million in jail. While the majority of prisoners in the US are there for property or violent offenses, a startling number are arrested for drug use, including, incredibly enough, marijuana use. According to an astounding 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of state and Federal prisoners, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense. I defy anyone who has every smoked marijuana to argue that another person should be locked up for marijuana use alone. And yet, here we are.

As for the other prisoners in the population, we can argue about whether or not they should be in jail. Personally, I'm fine with locking up people who commit violent crimes, and uncomfortable with the tendency of some groups to blame all incarcerations on the ''prison industrial complex''. I can imagine a New Yorker cartoon with two prisoners talking: "What are you in for?" "Prison industrial complex." ''Yep, me too.''

And yet it's hard to take any of this seriously when a 17-year old honor student can spent two years in jail for having consensual oral sex with his 15 year old girlfriend, but a well-connected douche bag doesn't serve time for committing perjury and treason. And how can any sane person take seriously a modern 21st century judicial system that doesn't feel it needs habeas corpus any longer? Clearly the system is in need of repair.

But let's forget the debate about who should be in jail and who shouldn't, and agree that ideally prison should be a place for rehabilitation. Here are some groups that send books to prisoners, to help forward that rehabilitation:

BOOKS THROUGH BARS
4722 Baltimore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19143215-727-8170
www.booksthroughbars.org
Sends progressive political and educational materials at no charge to state and federal prisoners in all states except MI. and OR. Donates books directly to county jail libraries but does not accept individual requests from county jail prisoners. Request books by topic. No catalog. Donations including artwork and stamps greatly appreciated.

BOOKS THROUGH BARS - NYC
C/o Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen StNew York, NY 10002
(212) 254-3697, ext. 322
www.abcnorio.org/affiliated/btb.html
Ships to prisoners nationwide. Specializes in political and history books. Also sends literary fiction and other educational books. Does not send religious literature. Donations of stamps and cash are appreciated. If you send a money order, please make it out to the groups fiscal sponsor, ABC No Rio.

BOOKS THRU BARS OF ITHACA
Second FloorAutumn Leaves Bookstore
115 The Commons
Ithaca, NY 14850
www.btbithaca.org
An all-volunteer operated, community-based "grassroots" organization that receives and process dozens of requests from incarcerated inmates predominantly from the most populated states in the Union: New York, Texas, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and many other states throughout the country requesting educational books and reading materials from it library of donated books, "free of charge".

BOOKS TO PRISONERS
C/o Left Bank Books
92 Pike St., Box ASeattle, WA 98101
www.bookstoprisoners.net
Free books to prisoners to all states except CA. Request by subject, no religious materials or legal materials. donations appreciated. Special Note - Does not ship to prisons who require all books sent to be new.

CLEVELAND BOOKS 2 PRISONERS
P.O. Box 602440
Cleveland, OH 44102
clevelandbooks2prisoners@hotmail.com
Free books to prisoners in Ohio only.

CHICAGO BOOKS TO WOMEN IN PRISON
C/o Beyond Media Education
7013 N. Glenwood Ave
Chicago, IL 60626
http://www.chicagobwp.org
Free books to women prisoners in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Ohio.

DC PRISONS BOOK PROJECT
P.O. Box 5243 Hyattsville, MD 20782
http://www.quixote.org/ej/bookstoprisons/
bookstoprisons@mutualaid.org
Free books to prisoners nationwide.

GAINESVILLE BOOKS FOR PRISONERS
P.O. Box 12164
Gainesville, FL 32604
http://www.civicmediacenter.org/links/2003/11/01/13.29.05.htm
Covers prisoners nationwide. Accepts Requests by topic of interest only.

INSIDE BOOKS PROJECT
C/o 12th St. Books
827 West 12th Street
Austin, TX 78701
www.insidebooksproject.com
Sends free books and literature to prisoners in Texas only. Send 1 37 cent stamp for resource list and newsletter. Accepts artwork donations for their yearly prisoner art show.

INTERNATIONALIST PRISON BOOKS COLLECTIVE
405 w. franklin st.
chapel hill, NC 27516
www.prisonbooks.info
New program that sends books to Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

LOUISIANA BOOKS 2 PRISONERS
831 Elysian Fields #143
New Orleans, LA 70117
books2prisoners@riseup.net
Ships free books to prisoners all over the US but focuses primarily on serving Inmates in Louisiana.

MIDWEST BOOKS TO PRISONERS
C/o Quimby's Bookstore
1573 North Milwaukee Ave. PMB. 460
Chicago, IL 60622
www.freewebs.com/mwbtp
Free books to midwest prisoners.

MIDWEST PAGES TO PRISONERS PROJECT
C/o Boxcar Books
310A S. Washington St.
Bloomington, IN 47401812-339-8710
http://www.pagestoprisoners.org/
Sends free books to prisoners in all states except CA, TX, MI, and MA.

BOOKS TO OREGON PRISONERS
POB 11222
Portland, OR 97211
http://www.bookstooregonprisoners.org
Free books to Oregon prisoners only.

PRISON BOOK PROGRAM
C/o United First Parish Church
1306 Hancock St. Suite 100
Quincy, MA 02169
617-423-3298 (NO collect calls)
http://www.prisonbookprogram.org/
Covers prisoners in all states but CA, MA, MD, MI, PA, or TX. Does not offer computer books, horror, romance, textbooks, true crime, or white supremacist materials. Publishes the National Prisoner Resource List free to prisoners nationwide on request.

PRISON BOOK PROJECT
C/o Food for Thought Books
P.O. Box 396 Amherst, MA 01004-0396
(413) 584-8975 ext. 208
www.prisonbooks.org
Serves prisoners in New England states (Maine, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI) and Texas only. Request books by topics of interest, not title. No mailing list or catalogue. No hardback books.

PRISON LITERATURE PROJECT
C/o Bound Together Bookstore
1369 Haight St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
No Texas requests. Request types of books-not specific titles, Stamps or donations greatly appreciated.

THE PRISON LIBRARY PROJECT
915 West Foothill Blvd. Suite C
128 Claremont, CA 91711
Free books on self-help, personal and spiritual growth, wellness, and metaphysical books. No law books, technical, or GED. No catalogue. Free resource guide on request.

THE READERS CORNER
Prison Book Program
31 Montford Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801
prisonbooks31@hotmail.com
http://www.main.nc.us/prisonbooks/
Sends free books to prisoners in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee only.

URBANA - CHAMPAIGN BOOKS TO PRISONERS PROJECT
C/o Spineless Books
PO Box 515
Urbana, IL 61803
www.books2prisoners.org
ucbtp@yahoo.comucbtp@yahoogroups.com (listserve)
Sends all types of books to state and federal prisoners in Illinois. Has a large selection of novels, but tries to stock popular genres such as African American history and lit, as well as dictionaries, though they're hard to maintain.

WOMEN'S PRISON BOOK PROJECT
C/o Arise Bookstore
2441 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405
www.prisonactivist.org/wpbp
Ships to all states except OR, MI, CO, and WV. Free books to women prisoners only. No county jail requests. Does not ship hardback books. Free resource guide for women and transgender prisoners. Encourages women and transgender prisoners to write articles for their newsletter. Write for more details.

5 comments:

Holly said...

Being a recidivist bookseller, I'm going to offer some additional advice about this: Definitely go with one of the organizations, do NOT attempt to donate books to the prison yourself. 90% of all books sent to prisons are refused at the mailroom, for a variety of obscure reasons, some of which are incredibly irritating. (Some of them are actually quite fascinating.)

Rufus said...

Such as?

A close friend of ours recently saw his sister locked up. If possible, I'm going to find out how to send her things.

Holly said...

The facility will have an official, published list of what's acceptable, and what is the correct way to get it in the door. The list will be very, very particular. Usually they're willing to fax the list, sometimes they mail it. I don't think they'll internet it, and if you found that info online for that facility, you shouldn't trust it, but confirm directly with them anyway.

And, sadly, sometimes things sent get damaged or "lost" between the mailroom and the prisoner.

The Pagan Temple said...

Now that's a worthwhile charitable endeavor. There sure are a lot of them, and probably still not enough.

Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

Great books to prisoners list.I am trying to add one like that to my blog. May I add this information here from my blog? My blog is called "Barbara's Journey Toward Justice". Please feel free to email me your books to prisoners blog or website from your community. See my contact information lower right on sidebar of my blog, for contact information. I will create a list and add to my blog if accepted. Let's all help get books to prisoners.