Letter to the Editor, Published in The Washington Post 9/28/2019

Below is the text of a letter that was published in The Washington Post on 9/28/2019. We are reproducing it here because the original version is behind a paywall for some readers. Also, the original version is on a page cluttered with many other letters, making it difficult to find.

There's help here at home

Regarding the Sept. 15 Washington Post Magazine article "Opening lines":

Thanks for shedding light on the arbitrary restrictions on books for prison inmates. The web of rules and bans seriously obstruct how almost 1.5 million men and women in U.S. prisons can educate themselves, learn needed skills to help them make it on the outside or just have something to read to ease the stress and boredom of prison life.

The magazine looked across the country - to Books to Prisoners in Seattle - for a group dedicated to sending reading material to inmates. But less than a mile from The Post’s offices is DC Books to Prisons. Our all-volunteer organization, in its 20th year, sends about 6,000 packages a year to prisoners in 34 states. It has stocked prison libraries and prison book clubs and sends children's books to immigrant detention centers and prison visitors rooms. The article mentioned book banning in North Carolina. Last year, a state prison in Raleigh returned an award-winning book our group had sent, Fergus M. Bordewich’s "Bound For Canaan," about the Underground Railroad. The reason? The same one the article mentioned for prohibiting "The New Jim Crow": concern it could spark a confrontation between racial groups.

We’re grateful when publications draw attention to prison issues, especially prison literacy. But next time The Post writes about groups working to get books to men and women behind bars, it doesn't have to go to the other Washington for an example.

Ian Simpson, Washington

The writer is a volunteer with DC Books to Prisons.