Prisoners are asking for books, so a Charlottesville bookstore is providing them, but it needs your help. Twenty-five to 30 letters from prisoners come to the Books Behind Bars program ran by the Quest Institute each day, and the volunteers do their best to get books sent back to each inmate.
Everything in the program is donated: the books are donated, and even those bought new are purchased with donated money. Volunteers can go to the Harris Street location, read letters from prisoners, and then head to the shelves to pick out up to three books for them. The book most requested by prisoners is a dictionary.
The program started when an inmate wrote a letter to Kay Allison’s bookstore asking for something to read. It has been 20 years since she was first asked to donate books to prisoners, and Allison says requests have never been greater than they are right now.
Volunteers say providing basic educational materials and spreading good karma is what keeps them going. “I strongly believe in payback, and I strongly believe in Mrs. Allison," said Garth Kemper, a Books Behind Bars volunteer.
Kemper says he believes in Allison for the obstacles the program has overcome since its start. Obstacles like getting book donations, and the money to ship them all over Virginia and even as far as California and Texas.
Like most nonprofit programs though, they don't always have what they need. Materials of all kinds – dictionaries, puzzle books, gently used textbooks, study materials and boxes for mailing books - are in short supply. Books Behind Bars is always looking for donations.
Click here for more information on how to donate or become a volunteer. The program is also currently looking for a volunteer graphic designer and grant writer.