"I've been locked up for 20 years ... and books are the primary way I've kept my sanity and lived vicariously. You don't just entertain us - you save us."

"Books provide information, mental awareness and an escape from the daily life of being a prisoner. No matter the subject, all literature is a connection to the world beyond the fence."

- Recipients of books from the Women's Prison Book Project

The Women's Prison Book Project (WPBP), founded in 1994, provides women and transgender persons in prison with a wide range of free reading materials. The goal of the Minneapolis-based volunteer organization is to build connections with inmates, while at the same time opening volunteers' eyes to prison realities.

According to the group's website:
• 80 percent of book recipients are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting, prostitution, drug violations and fraud.
• Of those convicted of violent crimes, the vast majority were defending themselves or their children from abuse.
• More than half of all women in prison are women of color.
• Two-thirds of women in prison have at least one child under 18. Most had primary custody of their children before going to prison.

What can you do to help with this organization's project?

Donate books

The WPBP accepts new or used books, especially paperbacks. (Many prisons do not allow hardcover or spiral-bound books). The most-requested topics include drug and alcohol recovery; English- and Spanish-language dictionaries; abuse; health; arts and crafts; mystery and horror novels; queer fiction and nonfiction, and fiction and nonfiction by people of color. Deliver donations to Boneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55404.

Donate time

Volunteer opportunities range from soliciting donations from publishers, responding to letters from women in prison or translating letters in Spanish to building bookshelves and packing books for mailing.
To volunteer, contact: womensprisonbookproject@gmail.com

Raise funds and awareness

For four years, Martha Russell, Arlene West and Lesley Powers have been bringing together women for fun and fundraising for literacy. Their most recent event was a fundraiser for the WPBP.

The space and part of the program were donated by their local, independent bookstore - Micawber's Books in St. Paul, which is co-owned by Hans Weyandt and Tom Bielenberg. Wine, catering and graphic design were contributed by the organizers, so all funds raised went to the WBPB.

Forty women fit into the cozy bookstore's space, with the "price" of admission to the lively event a contribution to WPBP. After an hour of informal conversation among women who were wearing a nametag with the title of one of their favorite books, we were seated for a presentation by Weyandt, who shared his favorite recommendations of new book titles. To organize an event of your own, contact: womensprisonbookproject@gmail.com


Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com