Prisoners Literature Project

Announcements

Tor donates hundreds of genre fiction titles to PLP

Many, many thanks to Tor Books for donating hundreds of titles to us! (They’ll get sent out – for free – to incarcerated folks across the U.S. who requested these genres.)

Some of the prisoners we send in to demand new or ‘new-like’ books, so it’s particularly helpful to have publishers send us their ‘advanced reader copies’ or remainders. If you can also help with this, please contact us!


Local high school club does book drive for PLP!

Albany High School’s chapter of Amnesty International, advocates for global human rights through campaigns, letter-writing, protests, and more! Senior and club President Anika coordinated a book drive for PLP recently and we just received 3 bagfuls of great books to send out.

Thanks much to Anika and other students in the club for taking action to support incarcerated readers.


Prisoners Literature Project: thanks for your support during 2022!

As we round out the year at the Prisoners Literature Project, we wanted to thank you all for keeping up on us, volunteering, or financially supporting us during the year with donations.

It’s not too late to make tax deductible-donations to our programs before year-end! But this newsletter is mainly sent to celebrate a year in which we:

– Sent out over 10,000 book packages (and 30,000+ books) to incarcerated folks in almost every U.S. state.
– Moved into our new library space in Berkeley, CA, as showcased in our ‘what happens in volunteer sessions?’ blog.
– Hosted over 150 group volunteer sessions, with many of you helping us to fulfil requests.
– Partnered with over 10 local Bay Area book stores featuring in-store displays, and 1,000+ books bought from wishlists by online/in-person customers.
– Received scores of thank you letters from appreciative book recipients and readers.

As we move into 2023, the pace of request letters we receive is increasing, thanks to word of mouth on the quality & quantity of books we send out for free. (We received 1,226 individual letters in a recent month, 60% up on mid-way through the pandemic!)

That’s why we appreciate your help with what we do. Our list of requests to answer is never-ending – but we love doing it, as can be seen from this new San Francisco Public Library virtual panel on our work. as part of the One City One Book festival.

Happy New Year, and thanks again for keeping up with us!
The Prisoners Literature Project volunteers.


PLP panel at the One City One Book festival

The Prisoners Literature Project partnered with the San Francisco Public Library, as part of its One City One Book festival on December 1st, to share about our work sending books to incarcerated people across the country.

Check out this thoughtful and informative video. People in the audience asked great questions!


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.


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)
Books Inc. (1491 Shattuck Ave, 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 (489 Castro St, SF. Their display of LGBTQ titles was compiled with invaluable input from PLP volunteers and Madison’s LGBT Books-to-Prisoners.)
Bound Together Books (1369 Haight St, SF – our original book store partner!)

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.



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.