Prisoners Literature Project

Announcements

A new video and matching donations!

Check out this wonderful new video that explains more about our long-running books-to-prisons program. (Thanks to Krishna Hawk for making it!)

While we have your attention —

Our work at the Prisoners Literature Project continues, sending out 1,000+ book packages per month to incarcerated folks all over the U.S. But we need your help to keep sending high quality books & paying for postage!

So we’re delighted to announce that if you donate now to PLP, leading up to this Giving Tuesday on November 29, 2022, all of your generous financial contributions will be matched up to $4,444, thanks to some anonymous donors! Please double your impact by donating now through Tuesday the 29th.

Our primary costs continue to be postage (thousands of dollars a month!) and bulk orders of books we simply can’t keep in stock due to demand.

Books on self-education, GED study materials, and self-sufficiency/tradeskills books on building and construction are always in extremely high demand, and we’ll use some of your donations to get even more.

If you can contribute, thank you so sincerely for making the Prisoners Literature Project part of your Giving Tuesday generosity!

This is just one of many great thank you notes that we have received recently.


PLP x San Francisco Public Library – virtual event!

The Prisoners Literature Project is excited to partner with the San Francisco Public Library, as part of its One City One Book festival, to share about our work sending books to incarcerated people across the country.

Join us virtually on December 1st at 7pm to hear from PLP volunteers about restrictions our criminal legal system places on reading and what we do to get books inside. We’d love to bring more perspectives to this conversation.

Register here: https://sfpl.org/events/2022/12/01/panel-prisoners-literature-project

In addition, if you’ve received books from the PLP while incarcerated and would like to share your experience at this virtual event, please reach out via prisonlit@gmail.com. (We’re able to offer compensation in thanks for your participation in this panel.)


Banned Books Week 2022 – #BeatThePrisonBookBan

Banned Books week (Sept. 18-24) is upon us once again. Books-to-prisons groups such as PLP  contend with the reality of book banning and restrictions every day in the course of our efforts to get reading material into the hands of eager incarcerated people. We have a thick binder that lists the book sending restrictions for prisons across the country. It’s a lot to track and it’s ever changing! Here is one page for CA prisons:

A prison may require new books only or newish or used but with strict guidelines about no text underlining, highlighting, or “suspicious stains.” This clearly limits our ability to accept donated books! Each letter must be marked with its relevant restrictions so we can do our best to ensure the books are successfully received by the letter writer. A few examples:

This article “The Cruel Practice of Banning Books Behind Bars” provides an update on the current state of the prison book banning challenge.

Therefore, we’re super pleased that a generous donor has offered to match the total of all  books purchased from our independent bookstore wishlists (or in-store displays) during the Banned Books 2022 week.  PLP has four local bookstores who are partnering with us for the matching grant.  These purchases will help us “beat the ban” in instances where new books are required! 

Please consider shopping off these wish lists or stopping by the stores if you live in the Bay Area:

Books Inc.

East Bay Booksellers

Green Apple Books

Pegasus Books

Finally, because we have such fabulous and committed volunteers we thought we’d share some of them holding books that we CAN (well to most prisons) send to incarcerated readers. These are commonly requested books that we try to keep in stock via our wishlists!


PLP Thank You Letters — Summer 2022

Wow! This is a particularly great batch of letters we’ve received recently. It is our good fortune to have such appreciative book recipients and readers.


What goes on during a volunteer session?

Here are some volunteers processing book requests in our new space:

 

A volunteer at work opening letters for upcoming sessions:

 

Our official request box waiting for volunteers to pick a letter:

 

Each letter has to be checked in our restrictions binder. We have a section for each state with each city listed as every prison has their own rules about what can be sent:

 

There is a handy library directory mounted on the wall for volunteers to locate books on a particular subject:

  

Volunteers browsing for books that will match the book requestor’s stated interests. This is the fun part!

A volunteer with a book selection:

 

An invoice receipt listing each book title has to be completed and included in each package. Volunteers are encouraged to write a note on the back. It’s sometimes the only contact an incarcerated person has outside the prison so they are much appreciated:

 

This is a poster on our wall that includes tips about how to fill out the address label and receipt. It’s very important to do it correctly. Points for good handwriting and double checking the prison id!

 

This is a “half slip” that we send in response to some letters. The dreaded “Do Not Send” is because some prisons won’t accept packages from us for whatever reason and we need to let the book requester know. Sometimes we simply want more info from the writer as to what types of books they’d like to receive.

 

Our supply station. Lots of envelopes and lots of tape!

 

It’s postage time! The ideal package will be under 3 lbs though sometimes the perfect book requires some extra weight.

 

A completed package ready to send!

 

We do a fair amount of special handling of letters. For example, some Pennsylvania letters have to be sent through a security processing center so we pull those out for volunteers to package up in a specific manner. This is becoming more and more common for different states, alas. Fortunately, we have volunteers willing to handle these controlled cases.

 

This is our thank you letter rack. It holds letters that have been sent to the attention of a particular volunteer. This is usually because the volunteer wrote a particularly nice note on the back of a receipt and the incarcerated person is responding with appreciation for the personal touch:

 

Some of our favorite really great thank you notes are posted on a bulletin board for all to see and be inspired by. (There are more online too)


Updated list: Bay Area book stores support PLP!

The Prisoners Literature Project is excited to continue its initiative working with local bookstores in the Bay Area, highlighting books that can be bought for prisoners directly at high-quality independent book stores.

Please shop at these excellent stores who all gave up precious space to support the PLP!

The following bookstores have set up display shelves with books to donate to the PLP. Each display features:

– a sign with the PLP logo
– paperbacks customers can buy for those inside
– flyers about PLP’s ongoing work
– free PLP bookmarks.

In the East Bay:
East Bay Booksellers (formerly Diesel Books; 5433 College Ave. Rockridge) 
Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave in Berkeley)
Pegasus Books (in downtown Berkeley at 2349 Shattuck Ave & at 1855 Solano Ave., Berkeley.)
Owl & Company Bookshop (3941 Piedmont Ave., Oakland)
Walden Pond Books (3316 Grand Ave, Oakland)
Cape & Cowl Comics (1601 Clay St, Oakland)
Banter Bookshop (3768 Capitol Avenue Suite F, Fremont)

in San Francisco:
Green Apple Books on the Park (1231 9th Ave, SF)
Fabulosa Books (Their display of LGBTQ titles was compiled with invaluable input from PLP volunteers and Madison’s LGBT Books-to-Prisoners.)

Of course, none of this would be possible without the long-term support of stores like Moe’s Books (at 2476 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley); and the Mothership, the Bound Together Bookstore (1369 Haight St., SF). We’d also like to thank Community Thrift in San Francisco for selling books on our behalf and donating the proceeds.

(Thanks to PLP volunteers Rachel, Peter, Jamie, Bruno, Ali, Gina & others for their help setting this up!)

And special thanks to Nick and Kar who independently cooked up this idea and inspired us, and created this giant display for the PLP at Green Apple Books on 9th Ave in SF.

Books and more! Find out what other useful resources PLP includes in packages

Each package PLP sends to an incarcerated reader usually includes 1-4 books. However, there are a number of other great resources that may be nestled in the envelope. We thought we would share some of these items that we have created or that come to us from other books-to-prisoners groups.

Prisoners Literature Project Ordering GuidelinesThis handout offers some details about PLP and clarifies what kinds of books we have available. It gives some info about the process of requesting books and the importance of clear handwriting among other things. Fortunately, in the age of smart phones we are often able to sleuth out the actual prison id # or discern the true last name spelling by going online to double-check!

Prisoner Activist Resource Center (PARC) National Prisoner Resource Directory — This is an invaluable resource that is included in every package (unless forbidden by a particular prison). Letter writers frequently request the latest version of the PARC. It includes details on a range of resources for incarcerated people including: educational resources, prison/writing arts programs, religious/spiritual projects, death penalty resources, etc. This truly useful document is put out by the PARC group based in Oakland, CA. It’s really worth browsing through the PDF version here.

We the People Legal Primer — PLP does not send out legal books, but we will package up this primer, which was developed by the Books to Prisoners Program in Quincy, MA. It’s a really handy 80-page document that includes the Constitution of the U.S., legal vocabulary definitions, basic judicial doctrines and other related references.

Reference By Mail Guide Sheet — PLP sometimes gets specific questions about a topic in the letters we receive. It’s tempting to print out something from Wikipedia. However, there are libraries and other orgs that will respond to these reference questions. What a great service! So, we created this guide sheet with all the details of how to get questions answered by the pros.

Pen Pal Service Sheet — As you can imagine many incarcerated people are seeking contact with the world beyond bars. Often letter writers say they’re seeking pen pals to write to and help pass the time. Pen pal services for imprisoned people come and go as there is huge demand and logistics. We send out information about one service, Adopt an Inmate, that is still up and running.

Other items that PLP sends out in response to specific requests include a sheet explaining why we don’t stock conspiracy-related books and a compilation of wicca/pagan articles as that’s a quite popular area of interest.


New PLP display at Oakland comic book store!

How cool is this? Jo, who works at Cape and Cowl Comics in Oakland, saw one of our displays at Pegasus Bookstores in Berkeley. He wants to support our efforts so he contacted us to find out if PLP would partner with Cape and Cowl Comics too! This was an easy YES as we receive many requests for graphic novels but it’s really hard for us to source them.

So, next time you’re in Oakland, be sure to stop by and see the store. It’s a nice environment with an amazing selection for you to peruse. Thanks again to Jo and store owner Eitan Manhoff for making this happen.


PLP thank you letters — Winter 2022

We’re welcoming in the new year with some more uplifting letters and warm holiday greetings from book recipients. It’s always a treat to pull a letter from the current stack and find artwork or kind words from someone who appreciates our efforts. It’s also gratifying because it confirms our books are making it into the hands of eager readers.

We sometimes get requests for very specific books that we stock via remainder orders. Usually someone has seen the book because another incarcerated person at their facility has received it. Word gets out! Sometimes there’s a flurry of letters from a specific prison because our program information has been passed along. We also stamp the inside of books with our address so even if the book recipient doesn’t receive the invoice with the nice note from a volunteer that we send (some prisons are really strict -ugh) they will know that the books came from us. Whatever it takes!


Gratitude Poem

We love getting feedback from book recipients. This arrived in the mail recently and we are sharing it here with the permission of author.



About the Prisoners Literature Project

The Prisoners Literature Project is an inclusive, all-volunteer, grassroots nonprofit whose purpose is to encourage reading, the pursuit of knowledge, and self-determination among incarcerated people. By sending free reading materials to those behind bars, PLP aims to foster learning and critical thinking and help people prepare to lead successful lives after incarceration. We believe that all people have a right to read.

Please consider donating to the PLP or volunteering your time (if you live in the Bay Area, CA!) to help us answer letters from prisoners who write us from all over the United States.

Prisoners – want books?

Mailing address for U.S. prisoner book requests: Prisoner Literature Project c/o Bound Together Books 1369 Haight St San Francisco, CA 94117 There's more info here on what else prisoners need to include with their requests.