UC Books to Prisoners is changing lives one book at a time

Tomorrow, UC Books to Prisoners, an Urbana-based project, will host a book sale to benefit those incarcerated in Illinois.

Rachel Rasmussen, the program coordinator, said Books to Prisoners first appeared in 2004 when a group of people took it upon themselves to respond to a few letters from prisoners asking for books.

The group was soon joined by others who organized it into a working group at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center.

Early volunteers developed a database to track various Illinois prison restrictions, fundraise for an expedition budget, and practice inviting the public to volunteer to select books based on requests. prisoners.

Rasmussen said that in 2009 Books to Prisoners approached the sheriff’s office and received approval to establish lending libraries at the two Champaign County jails. Today, it is a community-based non-profit organization run by volunteers.

“We hold two book sales a year where we sell the books that are either surplus or unlikely to be demanded by prisoners,” Rasmussen said. “We are good stewards of all books given to us. What goes wrong in prisons is sold to raise funds to ship books to prisons.

There are donation bins in the lobby of IMC, the English Building, near Parkland Library, and soon, Lincoln Square Mall. For large donations of more than five boxes, people can contact the organization through its website for assistance.

The community-powered volunteer organization offers several easy ways to get involved. No experience is required and volunteers can create their own schedules.

Volunteers interact with incarcerated people by reading their letters, selecting books from the organization’s collection of donated materials, and sending books in response to people’s requests.

Volunteers can also manage volunteers and coordinate book donations, fundraising, and various other educational, outreach, and technical tasks.

Rasmussen said there were public volunteer sessions to help with the organization’s mission to send books to prisons on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

“Another way to get involved is to learn our most requested books and donate them,” Rasmussen said. “That is to say, even though we receive many wonderful book donations, we always find that we are running out of the subjects that prisoners ask for the most, for example, how to draw, think about money, basic introductions to what starting a business entails. People should feel free to contact me for a list of popular books.

For people over the age of 21, there are also opportunities to work with the prison library program. Since the start of the pandemic, access to prisons has been restricted, but volunteers are allowed to bring extra books when there are no occupants.

Josephine Duffy, also known as JD, who graduated from the University in December, began volunteering with the program in fall 2019.

She became involved with Books to Prisoners when she stumbled upon its booth on Quad Day, her sophomore year. She had heard about the organization before through a group she used to listen to because it was raising money for her local group Books to Prisoners.

His favorite part of the program is answering letters.

“Through the letters,” she said, “you get a small but meaningful connection to those incarcerated. The notes of gratitude written in many letters always leave an impact on me. I love the hunt trying to find the perfect books to meet their demands.

She is currently away from Champaign for an internship.

“One of the things I’m most looking forward to when I get back is to start volunteering with Books to Prisoners again,” Duffy said. “There are so many problems with the American prison system and the work done by B2P is extremely important in providing incarcerated people with the resources they deserve. I am grateful to have played a part in this.

In August, Duffy will move to Columbus, Ohio, to earn his master’s degree in natural resources and environmental science from The Ohio State University.

She hopes to find a similar Books to Prisoners organization and continue her volunteer work.

For more information or to get involved in the program, email [email protected].

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