Appalachian book project helps inmates in six states
BY VICKI SMITH Associated Press
Friday, November 23, 2012
11/23/12 at 4:15 AM
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For people behind bars in six Appalachian states, they are one of the few forms of escape - hundreds of used books, wrapped in brown paper and stacked thigh-high under a table, just waiting to be shipped.
Parenting and self-help books. History and law. Dictionaries, biographies and fiction. Whatever the subject, volunteers with the Appalachian Prison Book Project believe they hold the power to unlock worlds.
From a small room in a historic house next to the Morgantown Public Library, they meticulously organize requests, exchanging letters to find just the right read and get permission from prison administrators while simultaneously scrambling to raise money for shipping.
The process takes months, and the restrictions are many: Spiral-bound books are banned, their spines seen as potential weapons. Hardcovers are discouraged. Some institutions refuse books altogether, often with no explanation.
"You would think it's not that big a deal. We're just sending out used books, free of charge, to people in prison," says Dominique Bruno, a doctoral student at West Virginia University who serves as outreach coordinator. "But it is as hard to get something into a prison as it is to get out of one."
For six years they have kept at it, shipping the 11,000th book last month. They've since sent dozens more to state and federal prisons across West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Other states have had prison book programs for decades, from California to Illinois and Texas to Massachusetts. Pennsylvania alone has at least six.
But until professor Katy Ryan taught a course on prison literature in 2004, West Virginia and the other five states had none. She and her graduate students discussed the need, spent two years raising money and collecting books, then started taking requests. The books are all privately donated, many by students and professors in WVU's English department and some by others in the community. Occasionally, an author or publisher will send a box of new books, too.
"We are simply doing exactly what we say in our mission statement," Bruno says. "We are sending books to prisoners. That's all."
Original Print Headline: Used book project helps inmates in Appalachia