MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Appalachian Prison Book Project, a Morgantown nonprofit group that provides free reading materials to inmates, is looking for donations as the holiday season arrives.
Composition notebooks are in high demand.
“Once you think about how little access there is behind bars to things like paper, office supplies and notebooks where you can keep collections of drawings, paintings and creativity,” said Lydia Welker, digital communications coordinator with the Project, “well, the need makes sense.”
Earlier this month, the group took to social media for the first time to ask for composition notebook donations.
“I was so thrilled by the response to this,” Welker said. “It’s so indicative of how our society, the communities within Appalachia and also this country at large can care about people who are inside [the prison system].”
Notebooks donated to the Book Project must be paper-bound. Metal spirals are not permitted.
Also in demand are language, legal and medical dictionaries; thesauri; world almanacs; educational books; and foreign language learning materials. Books must be paperback and in good condition.
The books can help inmates learn new skills, broaden their worldviews and obtain college credits through the West Virginia University Higher Education in Prison Initiative.
Some prisons in the Book Project’s service area — including West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland — have hosted book clubs. Now that pandemic regulations have eased, Welker said, the group hopes to start those again.
“You get to hear how much they enjoy the books they’re reading, and they get to dissect and explore the books with people around them,” Welker said.
The organization receives about 200 letters a week with requests for reading materials. Each Saturday, on its Facebook page, the Book Project shares requests from people inside for those on the “outside” to fill.
Requests recently ranged from an HVAC and Mini Cooper repair manuals, books on crochet patterns and yoga guides to novels, books on Wicca, and “The Big Book of UFO Facts, Figures & Truth.”
“We’re not just about giving access to books. We want to give access to books that people want to read,” Welker said.
Welker said the program helps bridge people inside with the world outside.
“Imprisonment — it’s intended to silo, to keep people in the system separate from those outside of it, yet there are more connections between the inside and outside than many may imagine,” Welker said. “Keeping access and connections to people in the outside world is important, it’s necessary.”
Books frequently are shared inside. Dictionaries and reference materials — specifically legal dictionaries — have helped people appeal sentences and get charges dropped.
“How do you write a letter to a lawyer, a judge, or put together a clemency report if you don’t have a dictionary?” Welker said. “These are things that we have access to every day and take for granted that people who are in jail don’t have.”
To learn more about the Appalachian Prison Book Project, you can visit their website.