Merion Friends Meeting News Feed

Support prison libraries

“‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And  when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

We’d like to reach out to prisoners, but most of us have no idea how to start.  We may have thought about donating books to prisoners and prison libraries.

It turns out that’s not as easy as it sounds. Prisons have to be concerned about safety and security. Books can be used to hide contraband, like sharps, drugs, or cash.  So most prisons have strict rules regarding books.

A typical prison will only permit paperback books (spines can be used as a hiding place) and only permit them when sent directly from a publisher.  So much for all those great used books you have  … or maybe not …

Books Through Bars is a charitable organization in Philadelphia that collects used books to ship to prisoners and prison libraries. It was started by New Society Publishers. They have sessions in West Philadelphia several times a month when they accept donations of books and when volunteers can help match requests for books to the available stock.

Their flier is here and can be useful if your organization wishes to hold a used book drive. Of note:

Book condition
Prisons have varying requirements for the kinds of books they will allow. Many do not allow hardcover books. Thus we strongly prefer softcover books.

Donated books should be:
Good-to-excellent condition: intact covers, pages, bindings; minimal markings
Current: Educational, computer, law, reference, vocational and text books should be not more than 5 years old.

In addition to book donations, they need volunteers to shelve and package books, to drive packages to the post office, and to read letters from prisoners and log their requests in a database. They need monetary donations to ship the books and they need office supplies like paper, strapping tape, and envelopes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *