The Prison Book Program (PBP) in Quincy, MA mails books to prisoners throughout the country in response to their written requests for specific books of interest to them. In the fall of 2015, CDT’s Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF) organized a book drive in which over 400 books were donated by members to the PBP.
In May, 2016, CDT members began volunteering at the PBP. PBP volunteers are assigned to one of three tasks: reading prisoner letters requesting specific books or kinds of books and selecting books from the PBP stacks that most closely match prisoners’ requests; verifying that the set of books selected for individuals are a close match to the requested books, and packaging up the books and addressing the packages to be sent to prisoners. CDT members have continued to volunteer at the PBP on the first Tuesday of odd-numbered months.
While volunteering at the PBP, CDT members recognized that it was hard for the PBP to respond to requests for vocational training books or books on unusual topics that haven’t been donated to the PBP and raised the idea of initiating a book donation project in which congregants purchased specific books to meet some of these unusual requests. Twenty-five CDT members participated in the project, with half choosing to read a prisoner’s letter and order books for that person herself, and the other half choosing to make a financial donation to fund the ordering of requested books by CJTF members. Over 60 books purchased through this project were sent by the PBP to about 30 prisoners. These books reflect a wide range of subjects: crafts, chess, learning an instrument, gardening and foraging, financial investing, law, business, health, and language dictionaries. The PBP was extremely appreciative to have received these books and is interested in replicating this project with other groups. As a wonderful, unintended consequence of this project, a project participant made an invaluable connection between the PBP and a publishing company that has remainder books on craft and building topics.