Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Prisoners Literature Project

photo © Mark Butkus 2017
Nelson Mandela, Eldridge Cleaver, Jean Genet, Angela Davis, and Gandhi have written about the great solace they received from books in prison.

In perusing an "anarchist collective" bookstore in Haight-Ashbury named Bound Together, we spoke with volunteer staff about life, politics and the Prison Literature Project — a project to give prisoners books. They had a couple of shelves of used books selling for a buck or two to help fund this project. They passed  me a flyer about the project and I asked if I could reprint it here in the hope of spreading the word about the Prison Literature Project. They gladly gave their consent.

Once upon a time — now almost 50 years ago — the prison population was declining and the philosophy of rehabilitation prevailed: those behind bars were deemed worthy of being given opportunities to get their lives together. Then the Sixties happened and Viet Nam and the era of rising prosperity for all Americans came to an end. Inequality started to grow and the newly anxious middle class was happy to demonize the lower orders who could no longer find decent paying jobs in the factories that were all moving overseas. The neoliberal philosophy of money-as-the-measure-of-everything triumphed and democracy and basic human decency withered. Prison became central to managing the poor and especially the African American poor. Punishment was in — rehabilitation was out. And prisons were built and filled up at a stunning rate. All bitterly ironic here in the "land of the free."

So now more than two million Americans are locked up — way more than any other country in the world. And it is now generally accepted to be a big problem, hugely wasteful of lives and money. But the Prison Industrial Complex has become (just like the Military Industrial Complex) a giant demanding beast, so though there is much talk, there is not much action.

The Prison Literature Project is a small effort to help those in prison to read and think — something a sensible prison system would do. We get almost 2000 letters a month from prisoners requesting books and send out about 3000 (books). We are an ultra low budget, all volunteer group and


Average package costs a little over $3 to send.

For prisoners we need paperbacks — any kind of thought provoking book is great but we will gladly accept ANY GOOD BOOK — we can trade them at used bookstores for books prisoners request.

They can be dropped off at:
1) Bound Together Books
2) Moe's Books 2476 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley
3) During our meeting times at Grassroots House 20222 Blake St. near Shattuck in Berkeley

We meet at Grassroots House Sundays from 2 to 6 pm and Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

DONATE YOUR UNWANTED STUFF in our name to the world's greatest thrift store: Community Thrift 623 Valencia near 17th Street in San Francisco.

The Prison Literature Project has been providing books to inmates in over 1000 institutions for more than 30 years. The Bar None Group contributed to the Prison Literature Project by purchasing a used first-edition copy of A Book of Luminous Things an international anthology of poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz.

Bound Together Books is located at 1369 Haight Street in San Francisco.  They "try to be open daily" between 11:30 am to 7:30 pm, but call ahead (415) 431-8355 to see that someone will be there.

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