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message 1: by Neil (new)

Neil McCrea | 204 comments I posted this ages ago in the old FF. The charity is still alive and well, so I thought I'd re-post it here. If this isn't the appropriate folder, I apologize.
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the coarse of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. --Malcolm X

As a teen, I spent a large amount of time in Seattle’s Left Bank Books, a far left non-profit bookstore dedicated to promoting the cause of free speech, civil rights and prisoner’s rights. (Incidentally, the novelist Kathy Acker worked there at the time, and I was a little bit awestruck by her). It was at this bookstore that I first became involved with the Books to Prisoners program. For a variety of personal reasons it has since become a pet project of mine over the years.

The United States incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than any other developed country. In the last twenty-five or so years our nation has largely given up on the idea of rehabilitation. Funding for rehabilitation programs has decreased steadily during this time, and there is little hope for a turn around on the political horizon. Worse, many prisons greatly hinder the prisoners ability to try to better themselves. Most prison libraries are a bit of a joke, many prisons don’t allow prisoners to buy books or conversely only allow prisoners to have books that they bought themselves with their prison job earnings, there are even some privatized prisons that only allow religious oriented reading material. This general lack of compassion reflects poorly on our society.

Books to Prisoners receives 600 to 800 requests for books each month. Volunteers work at opening letters, finding books in BtP’s collection that correspond to the request, and wrapping and mailing parcels. With the huge backlog of requests and limited resources available prisoners sometimes wait up to six months to receive their books.

Books that are particularly needed (Paperback only):

African American History & Fiction
Native American studies
legal material
GED materials
languages (particularly Spanish)

other slightly less common requests include: fiction, voc-tech manuals, politics, anthropology, art and drawing, psychology, and health and fitness.

You can also be of help by providing some recommendations. We have a large number of requests for Urban African American Fiction (eg. Iceburg Slim, Donald Goines, Chester Himes) and Gay themed fiction. However, most of the novels that we can find in these genres contains sexually explicit material that the prisons will not allow. Any suggestions of titles in either of these genres that don’t contain graphic depictions of sex would be a great help.

If you have any questions, you can message me,

or e-mail:

Donations of books may be sent to:

Bellingham Books to Prisoners
P.O. Box 1254
Bellingham, WA 98227

Thanks to all who took the time to read this.


message 2: by Neil (new)

Neil McCrea | 204 comments For any of you who may be in the area there will be a street fair to benefit Books to Prisoners in Bellingham, WA on Saturday Sept 12th.

A number of bands will play, and there will be a number of artisan craft vendors and most importantly . . . fair food!

message 3: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Well, I won't be there, but I can pass this along to people I know in B'ham. Where will the street fair be, and what time?

Thanks, Neil.

message 4: by Neil (new)

Neil McCrea | 204 comments The street fair will be on Prospect between Champion and Bay (although B'ham is small enough that just going downtown should make it easy enough to find) and it goes from 12-5pm, but vendors are allowed to start selling earlier if they're of a mind to.

message 5: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Duncan | 2 comments Thanks, Neil, for posting about our Block Party on the 12th. I'm one of the volunteers of the Bellingham Books To Prisoners group; we're actually an affiliate of the Seattle BTP program, which still operates through Left Bank Books (since all prisons allow only books from bookstores or publishers). There are affiliates in Olympia and Portland, too. We've got our own website now:

I hope you can come down to Prospect Street; besides all the other stuff, we've got a very cool raffle going, and we'll have massage, henna tattoos, bellydancers, and B'ham's famous one-armed juggler.

We've got a new space inside the Rocket Donut building, and I encourage everybody to come in during one of our packing meetings, look around and read a few prisoner letters. Even if you can't volunteer, it's eye-opening.

One correction, though: although Seattle BTP does accept mailed donations of books, we have one of the teeny, tiny PO boxes, and would much rather have donations either dropped off, or give us a call and we're happy to pick them up anywhere in the county.

message 6: by Martha (new)

Martha Kate | 198 comments Hey Neil, I thought this was sad -

I can't believe they would shut down the entire program over a paper clip.

message 7: by Neil (new)

Neil McCrea | 204 comments Nancy! I didn't know you were a member of Fiction Files! You know me, or at least of me, I'm Chris' significant other.

Martha. My mom sent me that article the other day, messed up but sadly not surprising.

message 8: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Duncan | 2 comments Hi Neil! I found this site when my daughter found your comment about BTP when she googled. It looks wonderful, although I haven't had much time to explore yet. In the meantime, thanks for all your help with the Block Party!

And Martha, Cindi from Village Books just sent me a news story that says that the Virginia Department of Corrections has changed their minds, and free books are being sent into Virginia prisons again. Due to "public outcry," according to the article.

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