DC Books to Prisons
January 2020 Newsletter

"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

BtP Celebrates 20 Years of Operation

On November 7, 2019, volunteers and supporters of DC Book to Prisons (BtP) gathered at Smith Public Trust to celebrate BtP's 20th anniversary. Around the room were cards with excerpts of letters received from prisoners over the last 20 years describing how much books mean to them. In a speech, one of BtP's board members explained why we have done this work for 20 years and will continue to send books to prisoners:

"More than half of adult prisoners lack the basic skills necessary for pursuing higher education, securing a job, or participating fully in society. Studies also state that education reduces the likelihood of committing another crime after being released, and everyone in this room plays a role in making that happen."

At the anniversary celebration, BtP introduced a new logo, which can be seen at the top of this newsletter.

Our thanks to Smith Public Trust for hosting the celebration, and our thanks to all the volunteers and supporters who have contributed to BtP's work over the last 20 years!

[Photo of card displaying this letter: I gratefully received your address
from a friend of mine recently, it's so difficult in these time finding someone
whose hearts are in the right place and are willing to help with the inspirational
and educational needs of men and women in prison. Your organization and those who
support you with labor, donations or publications are truly an inspiration to us
and I am very grateful for everyone's kindness. I like Cookbooks and books on
Food Preservation, as a grandfather I hope to be able to in a couple of years be
released and cook for my grandkids whether it be cakes or pies or meal or snacks,
being a single grandparent's going to be tough enough so I gotta make an impression...
- Robert, TX]

Change of Fiscal Sponsor

For the last nine of our 20 years in operation, our fiscal sponsor was the Washington Peace Center (WPC), which meant that monetary donations for us had to be directed to WPC. Now, WPC is relinquishing the fiscal sponsorship part of its programming. Donations for us will no longer go to WPC, and we will briefly be unable to accept monetary donations while finalizing arrangements with a new fiscal sponsor. We will send out an update once we are accepting monetary donations again.

During the transition between fiscal sponsors, we will continue to accept the donation of self-adhesive postage stamps of all denominations. We will also continue to welcome book donations.

Targeted Book Donations Transform Prison Life

We welcome the donation of used books in all of the categories included on our web site's list of most-needed books. However, some categories of books are in higher demand than we could ever hope to meet by receiving used books from the public. Also, some prisons allow only books that are brand new.

We are therefore immensely grateful to the individuals, foundations, community groups, and companies that purchase top-priority books and give them to us. Here are a few examples of books that transform the lives of the prisoners we serve:

Educational books are frequently requested. The top need is for college-level, paperback dictionaries. Acquiring enough of these is a constant struggle, and we're grateful to the many individuals who purchase them for the prisoners we serve. GED study guides are also popular. (Some of you may recall the lead article in our last newsletter about an incarcerated student who wrote to us after the GED preparation materials we had sent him allowed him to pass his GED exam.) A foundation has generously given us a grant allowing us to purchase GED preparation books. Wardens report that education transforms the culture of a prison, allowing the individuals within the prison to identify as "students" instead of "prisoners".

Incarcerated people often ask for books that will help them prepare for careers they can enter after their release. We therefore receive many requests for Illegal to Legal and books on plumbing, welding, beekeeping, and other trades open to former prisoners. Preparation for post-release careers can make a considerable difference to recidivism rates, so we greatly appreciate the donors who purchase requested career-related titles.

Some prisoners wish to to make cards or other items to send to their families. They therefore request books on activities like drawing or crafts. A challenge with obtaining suitable how-to-draw books is that most prisons strictly prohibit books containing any nudity, and it is common for books on drawing to include a page or two of nudes. We therefore welcome books on drawing "safe" subjects like faces, trees, or dogs. One of the most amazing donations we ever received consisted of multiple boxes of Peel Productions books, which are aimed at children and are therefore free of nudity. Some prisoners express thanks for the how-to-draw books they've received by sending us beautiful handmade cards, sometimes telling us that they learned to draw the animals or flowers on the cards from the books we sent. Many prisoners comment that drawing keeps them busy for hours on end.

Some prisoners simply want to pass the time peacefully with a good book. A few request books in Spanish, which are seldom found in significant numbers in prison libraries. For years, the only Spanish-language books in our collection were works of classic literature, which were seldom requested and were also beyond the reading level of many of the prisoners requesting Spanish-language books. Then, some dedicated supporters started keeping an eye out for popular books in Spanish at book sales, acquiring Harlequin romance novels, Star Wars comic books, and other popular, easy-to-read books in Spanish. We also received donations of Christian books in Spanish. Prisoners often share these books with each other, then are able to converse about the worlds they have discovered through reading.

We will continue accepting book donations during our transition to a new fiscal sponsor. If you would like to donate top-priority books to us, please see our Politics and Prose wish list or Amazon wish list.

Letter from an Incarcerated Reader

This letter was sent to us by Brandi, a prisoner in McLoud, Oklahoma:

"I'm trying to change my life... I just want to learn all that I can while I am here so that I can make better choices in the future... Thank you so much for the help that you give us."