Who are we?
The Prisoners Literature Project is an all-volunteer, non-profit group that sends free books directly to prisoners who request them from throughout the United States. Working almost continuously for thirty years, our U.S. prison books program has gotten (literally) tons of books into the American prison system, while staying overwhelmingly ‘grassroots’ – no full-time employees, no overhead eating up your donations.
Our many volunteers for sending books to prisoners include radical librarians, soccer coaches, anarchists, old folks, teens, yoga devotees, LGBTQ activists, ex-prisoners, and booklovers — all united in the belief that everyone has the right to read. (Here’s a video from 2012 showing off what we do.)
PLP is run entirely by volunteers (please volunteer now!) and funded entirely by donations (we really need your donations!). All funds go to pay for postage, mailing supplies, rent, & books specially requested by priosoners, including dictionaries (our number one request). Our project started in the back room of Bound Together Books, an anarchist bookstore on San Francisco’s Haight Street.
Now working out of Berkeley’s Grassroots House (our 501 (c)3 sponsor), we appreciate continuing support from Bound Together Books, Moe’s Books, BookMooch, the Resist Foundation, and many generous folks in the Bay Area. Subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on what we’re up to.
Why send free books?
In American prisons, access to books is treated as a privilege, not a right. That’s why prison book programs are vital.
Most prisons do not allow prisoners to receive books directly from individuals. Instead, books must be sent through “pre-approved vendors,” usually expensive booksellers or publishers. In many cases, prisoners don’t have anyone on the outside who is willing or able to send books this way. Most prisoners don’t have Internet access to order books, or money to pay for them. Many prison libraries stock only mass-market pulp fiction and/or religious tracts. And people in solitary confinement have no access to books outside their cells.
This is where the Prisoners Literature Project steps in. We respond directly to prisoners’ book requests, and (working with Bound Together Books) ship hundreds of good books directly to them every week. We know the particular book restrictions for more than a thousand prisons, and are part of a network of folks offering free information resources to those behind bars.
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.