Monday, December 5, 2011

Books Through Bars

Wanting to spread some bookish holiday cheer? Consider helping out this great organization, Books Through Bars.

Back in January, when I was still in law school in New York, I organized a book drive for their benefit. If you're in New York, I'm sure they could use books. If you're not in New York (or if you are) they also desperately need money to send out packages to incarcerated people who are requesting reading material.

Below I've copied the email I received from them today, asking for help. Even $20 goes a long way - sending packages to seven people. Without financial support, the books languish in Brooklyn, not able to travel to those who are locked away, thirsting for knowledge.

Books Through Bars

c/o ABC No Rio
156 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

Dear Supporter of Books Through Bars NYC,

The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world with over 2.3 million people in jail or prison. Over fifty percent of those people do not hold high school diplomas.  Access to books and educational materials is minimal to non-existent in most prisons, and in 2011 funding for libraries and educational opportunities for prisoners was further reduced. While more than 95 percent of individuals in state prisons are eventually released, the lack of educational, practical or social skill training leave many individuals ill-equipped for life outside of prison. Books and access to education are critically important to people in prison, as one person incarcerated in California  wrote in a letter to us, “With you [sic] help a smarter man will come out of this place and with that it feels that my life will be better and make it harder for me to come back into this place.”

Since 1996, NYC Books Through Bars (BTB) has been dedicated to sending books to people incarcerated nationwide.  Over the last fifteen years, we have received mail from people in state and federal prisons in all 50 states and sent free books, magazines and photocopied information in response to their requests. We receive over 400 letters from women and men in prison every month and are able to respond to the majority of their requests.

This past year Books through Bars sent approximately 4,500 packages each containing 2-5 books. Building off our efforts last year, in 2011, we were able to answer a higher proportion of the prisoners’ written requests for books through a combination of more volunteers, wider donation collecting, creative fundraising ideas, and  substitution of material we might not have available in our library with related reading material.

Despite our hard work, BTB NYC anticipates significant financial challenges in the coming year. US Postal Service rate increases seriously impacted our work in 2010, and media mail rates are slated to rise again
in early next year.  It now costs 30% more to send out a one-pound package of books than it did just a few years ago.

We appreciate your past support of our efforts to send books to prisoners. We are writing to ask for your support again. It costs $300 to send a week’s worth of packages. Donations at even the $20 level go a long way to ensuring that people in prison have access to quality reading material. Twenty dollars will enable Books Through Bars to send books to at least 7 people in prison.

-  $50 will enable us to send books to 20 people in prison.
-  $75 will enable us to send books to 30 people in prison.
-  $100 would send books to 40 people in prison.

Our collective is entirely volunteer-run, and postage is our sole overhead expense. That means that every penny donated goes directly to pay for postage on books for prisoners. Your donation will not only ensure books continue to be sent but also allow us to provide important support for prisoners around the country. As one person wrote to us, “Books have always been my passport to enrich both my mind and spirits, but now they are essential to my emotional survival.” Another person, incarcerated in New York, wrote, “You’ve no idea what it means to me. Not only to get the books but also to know someone out there gives more than half a damn.”

Over two million men and women will be unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones this year. Please help Books Through Bars give someone the gift of books this holiday season.


The Books Through Bars collective

P.S.  Your contribution is tax-deductible. Books Through Bars’ fiscal sponsor, ABC No Rio, has 501© 3 status.

Please make all checks and money orders out to our fiscal sponsor, ABC No Rio, and please note in the memo that your donation is for Books Through Bars.

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