In fact, I’ve just finished redesigning the official website for the non-profit in question, the Prisoners Literature Project, which is “an all-volunteer grassroots group that sends hundreds of free book packages to needy prisoners in the United States every month.”
How did I come across the PLP, which operates out of an endearingly rickety non-profit space in Berkeley, the Grassroots House, and has been in operation for almost 30 years? Well, it started when we got a letter from a prisoner asking for a free subscription to the (sadly defunct!) Game Developer magazine, which I used to be publisher for.
Obviously, I couldn’t help out, but it got me thinking – if prisoners are starved enough for reading material that they’ll send letters like this out, how can I help get them more reading material? And it led me to the PLP, which sends more than 800 packages of books to prisoners per month, all without full-time staff – just enthusiastic volunteers.
Since the PLP has been around for such a long time, it’s on the radar of many U.S. prisoners, who can request books by mailing an address in San Francisco. And mail them they do – with 30+ letters received every day by the PLP. Prisoners write asking for dictionaries (our most requested type of book!), thesauruses, books on setting up small businesses, meditation and self-help books, and a plethora of other non-fiction and fiction titles.
Many prison libraries are underfunded and understocked (which is a whole other issue in itself!) And with Internet devices just not available behind bars, the old-fashioned book – sent directly to prisoners who request them – can be an amazing source of self-improvement, inspiration and positive change. As the website says:
“Activists and artists such as Nelson Mandela, Eldridge Cleaver, Jean Genet, Angela Davis, and Gandhi have written about the great solace they received from books in prison. Every month, we receive ‘thank you’ letters from prisoners echoing the same sentiment. The American prison-industrial complex is frighteningly huge, but — with your help — we can continue to make a positive difference for thousands of people every year.”
So, as well as re-designing the Prisoner Literature Project’s website and regularly updating it (and setting up a PLP Twitter account), I volunteer to answer letters from prisoners and pick out books for them when I can (Bay Area folks, you can do this too!)
But as the Prisoners Literature Project gains steam (we were 4 months behind on answering letters from prisoners – now we’ve got it down to just 7 weeks!) we’re spending increasing amounts sending out packages. And we need donations to help us keep sending out books. As the PLP website explains here:
“At the Prisoners Literature Project, we’re all volunteers, but average postage on a book package runs more than $3.50. We currently send out around 150 book packages to prisoners each week — which means we spend more than $2,000 every month just for postage. In short: Every dollar counts. We need to increase our funding to catch up with our backlog of book requests.”
So – maybe you’d consider helping us out, particularly if you can contribute via PayPal and set up a recurring monthly (tax-deductible in the U.S.!) payment. In fact: “A single $25 donation will get much-needed books to seven U.S. prisoners. A recurring payment of $10 a month will get books to three prisoners every month, or nearly 40 packages – about 120 books – across an entire year.”
That’s the ask – and even if you can’t help out, hopefully this post will make you think about those incarcerated U.S. prisoners who want to improve their reading or be inspired by books, but just can’t get access to reading material we all take for granted. Thanks for reading.