"Books Through Bars"

"Books Through Bars"
by Cynthia Rodriguez

I had heard of "BOOKS THROUGH BARS" at the A-SPACE Anarchist Community Center through the WOODEN SHOE BOOK AND RECORD STORE(which I wrote about for Lesbiatopia in "Spotlight on Book Stores") but I never gave much thought to it. I think like alot of people, when pondering which types of organizations or charities to give my time, energy and/or money to, prisoners were never exactly at the top of my list.

Back in February towards the end of the month, I made a trip to the A-Space to set up an art show and when I was done with my meeting, I came across a group setting up for something called "Books Through Bars". I thought to myself, "Hmmm, this was meant to be, I was supposed to be here this very moment." I could have left after my meeting, but I surprised myself when I felt the urge to stay and help out. I was interested in learning more about this whole program. Since then I've also done some research about it.

Basically, the way it works is like this:

People donate books to the program, which is almost pretty much nationwide with different cities from all over doing their own version of BTB. There are official "drop-off" places where folks drop their books off. There are certain guidelines on book donating that can be found on their website.

The books are taken to places designated as "packing cafes". A-Space is one of them. Prisoners from all over write letters to BTB and request the types of books they would like. For example, they can ask for one about hobbies, or vocational skills, novels, etc.

The designated Books Through Bars location is set up with it's own library (complete with different sections of different types of books) primarily for the use of mailing them out to prisoners. Volunteers match the requests with the books as best they can. They pack them up. The people in charge of the program at that location prepare them to be mailed and ship them out to the Post Office.
I was very enlightened the day I volunteered at the packing cafe. I definitely plan on joining them again in doing that. As most people know about me, being a big advocate on reading and books and such. I think anytime people have the craving to read and learn, it's a good sign. I realized behind bars certain people have a tendency to gain a whole new appreciation in reading, more so than most people that are not in that situation and how hungry they are for books and periodicals.
I have also decided to make my art studio, THE UNDERWORLD, an unofficial drop-off for locals to drop off books they would like to donate to Books Through Bars. Beginning in April, I plan to make a monthly trek to the space to drop off the books and participate in the packing cafe.
So, anyone interested in doing so, please feel free to contact me and we can set up an appointment at the studio for the drop off. I do not have "regular business hours", and am usually there only on the weekends, so we'll work something out. I'll be more than happy to lug them to A-Space when I make my monthly trip. Before you do, please take a moment to look at the BTB website for the donation guidelines. I've already gotten inquiries from people about doing that. To all those who will participate, thank you in advance. To those already involved in the program, many thanks, and keep up the good work.

I believe books can play a vital role in rehabilitation in any case (whether someone is in prison, or not. Sometimes people make their own prisons, even if they are not in jail) if the individual has a true, genuine desire to improve themselves.


Sinnerviewer said...

I LOVE this!!! Very good, Cynthia! Thanks for sharing this and I hope the readers of www.Lesbiatopia.com will join in and help out. Good books can easily change lives.


Thank you Sinnerviewer! I thought it'd be nice to turn my love for reading, writing, and books into some serious activism.

marie said...

My ex-partner spent a few years in prision -- after several in and outs in jail. Why? Basically, she was raped and left for dead in a corn field after which she turned to crack. Yep, this amazing woman who I still dearly love has had such a path. Among the multidues of things I learned from her is the value of the people who live behind our prision walls. I applaud this program, and by the way... my ex has been clean for nearly fifteen years now.


Wow, Marie. Thank you for sharing that. Good for her she's doing okay now, and thank you for the encouragement.