"Books are how we teach ourselves to be better people. Books help us get into the minds and hearts and experiences of other people. Books foster empathy and they help us aspire to being a little better tomorrow than we are today." —Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books
DC Books to Prisons (BtP) is proud to announce that we will soon become an incorporated 501(c)(3) non-profit. We will no longer operate under the umbrella of Empowerment WORKS, the wonderful partner that enabled our work for the past year. With the change, we will have our own non-profit status and all donations will flow directly to our organization. We are currently making the transition and will begin acting independently on July 1, 2021.
Founded in 1999, BtP mails books to thousands of people incarcerated in more than 600 prisons across the country. In that time, BtP has relied on dedicated supporters who have donated time, books, and money — enabling the good work of the organization to continue even through the pandemic.
As a longstanding organization that's growing financially, BtP will benefit from our new non-profit status because it will add to our credibility and potential for growth. For example, the organization will have more freedom with fundraising such as with grant requests and corporate donor-matching. BtP celebrates this good news of independence as we look forward to doing even more good work to benefit prisoners.
We continue to send hundreds of books to incarcerated readers every week, using the pandemic-friendly facilities and procedures described in our December 2020 newsletter. These books are sent in response to letters from prisoners requesting books and expressing how much the books previously sent to them helped them. We have always included a few letter excerpts in our newsletters, but in this newsletter we're sharing a wider selection. In some cases, spelling has been fixed and punctuation added, but no changes have been made to the wording except as indicated by square brackets.
Many prisoners request books to help them learn new skills and prepare for careers:
"I'm starving for knowledge. I would love some educational books... I need a dictionary. I want to learn how to garden [and] manage a business with food involved like food trucks and small diners." —Taylor, Kansas
"I need a concise study guide for English grammar. I need a really good lexicon. And finally, if I can receive a vocabulary builder for everyday conversations, that would be a blessing! I understand that [in] this day and age, you must have good verbal conversation skills, plus good writing skills." —Joshua, Texas
"Recibi su paquete de estudios de ingles primer nivel, el cual le estoy muy agradecido. Ya que me ha sido de gran utilidad en mi aprendizaje... Hoy les escribo con el fin de pedirles el libro de segundo nivel." TRANSLATION: "I received your package of level-one English study [material], for which I'm very grateful. It has already been of great use in my learning. Today I'm writing to request the second-level book." —Daniel, California
"I am currently in my fourteenth year of incarceration, and am blessed with an opportunity to go to seminary and earn a degree in biblical studies. So I am interested in books in this field as well as health and fitness and nutrition and non-profit. I have less than nine years until I see parole. My goals are to educate myself in non-profit organization. I would like to have a traveling prison ministry to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to inmates across the United States. Also, a drug addiction counselor. My incarceration was due to a drug addiction, so I would like to reach out to those who are drowning in their addiction." —Anthony, Texas
Other people behind bars simply want a diversion:
"I am not real choosy and will read whatever you send. I am 72 years old in close custody. All I have to do is read and draw." —Richard, Texas
"I am currently incarcerated in solitary confinement with no human interaction. I've been in solitary for 2 years. I own only 2 books... I've probably read both books a hundred times. It's the only thing keeping my sanity. I'm truly hoping you can help me with some books. Maybe a few study books, comics, and books for entertainment." —E., Texas
Many letters over the past year have referred to the coronavirus pandemic:
"You don't know how much you help us to keep ourselves calmer and focused on something positive and not think bad thoughts, and [even] more now because we're in quarantine without being able to receive visits from our loved ones. We're kept isolated and can't go anywhere or get hot food... There are already more than 600 reported cases of sick prisoners in this unit." —Luis, Texas
"I hope [DC Books to Prisons] is still in business in spite of coronavirus. I know the prisons are." —Eugene, Nevada
"I hope you all are doing well, as well as your family members too. I don't know if this is the best time for requesting books. We know that everything is happening right now is very stressful... I pray that God keep you all safe." —Rene, South Carolina
Some letters come from people who are trying to transform themselves:
"I'm working on bettering myself and helping kids avoid making the mistakes I made. I'm interested in receiving books that will help me with these goals. Please send me books on... self help and self empowerment. Any non-fiction that helps a person to become a better person." —Jonathan, California
"I really like books that help you with human behavior, books that talk about feeling, thinking, and the human spirit... I'm asking you for books of this type because... I'm seeking to change many things about myself. I'm seeking help in thinking better and having more control of my feelings and impulses. I want to be a better human being, thinking better and living better." —F., California
Some letters describe the sharing of books:
"I want to start by saying 'thank you' for helping those that are locked up and don't have access to books. You sent me some comic books and a good novel and I just want to say that I passed them on to other inmates and they also enjoyed them so thanks." —Steven, California
Would you like to see more excerpts from prisoners' letters? We often post short excerpts to Twitter, and they can be read even by people without Twitter accounts.
Please consider making a donation to fund our work.
We welcome both checks and online donations. Online donations will be accepted via Empowerment WORKS' Flipcause portal until June 25, then we will be pausing online donations until July 1. After July 1, please visit our Donate page to find the link to our new online donation portal.
Checks should be made payable to "DC Books to Prisons" and sent to us at:
DC Books to Prisons - Donations
PO Box 34190
Washington, DC 20043
If you prefer to donate books, you can order them from our Politics and Prose wish list or Amazon wish list. If you are in Washington DC and wish to donate used books, please see our list of needed genres then follow the instructions at the bottom of the page to arrange a drop-off with one of our volunteers. We hope soon to resume accepting book donations at Foundry United Methodist Church, and will announce our return to Foundry once our return date is certain.
Another option for donating books to prisoners is to send books directly to a prison librarian. For a list of prison librarians accepting books, contact email@example.com with "Prison Library List" in the subject line.
Whatever form your support takes, we thank you for caring about getting books into the hands of readers behind bars.