Prison Book Program provides educational materials

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Why are books so important to prisoners:
Being under lock and key Latinos and Black represent the majority in incarcerated without a G.E.D. Your Prison Book Program helps many inmates such as myself to educational and other special needs provided as well as assistance in filling out their necessary paperwork.

The dictionary helps inmate’s individual skills [such] as writing a cover letter and assessing my own skills without the help of other inmates. There are books which can help you do this like a dictionary to help find a word. A well written resume is so important in job hunting.

Why are dictionaries the most requested book:
Dictionaries help a person find a word and write, and help people to find a sentence and read. It helps how they interpret the word being said, and correct spelling.

What are prisoners doing with their dictionaries:
Prisoners are developing spelling and writing skills and reading and interpreting the words being said.

-Submitted by Santiago William
Elmira Correctional Facility, New York

The dictionary: a significant asset in prison

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The Prison Book Program is so overwhelmingly important to prisoners in the correctional facilities because it helps us prisoners build our mental perspective on life. I mean lets face it, a lot of inmates have a "cowboys and Indians" approach or outlook on life. When an inmate reads a book or anybody for that matter, their immediate actions and decisions are largely determined by the ideas and points given in the book. When a person reads a book not only is their actions influenced but their emotions are influenced as well.

Books help them open their minds to a vast panorama of ideas that can be implemented to help them become a better or worse person depending on what perception they receive from the literature. I guess this is one of the reasons inmates like dictionaries so much. A lot of inmates once they expand their mental view from reading. In order not to be put into this situation where you feel guilty because you admitted to something that you did not understand, inmates like to study the dictionary so they will be on the same vocabulary level as the inmates who have knowledge of these words and who are not ignorant to their definition so that they will not be manipulated by them.

Thus bringing me to the conclusion that the dictionary has been the most significant asset literally speaking to me since I have been in prison, because it has helped me to understand the vocabulary that different inmates and officers have tried to manipulate me with.
If I can add though, it would help to have English/Spanish dictionaries as well because a lot of us can’t talk to our Spanish speaking counterparts because we can’t understand them.

I thank you for your time and patience and for listening.

-Submitted by Javon Lindsay
Laurinburg, North Carolina

Books are doorways

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Books are magical objects. When a person opens the cover of a book, they are opening a door into another time or place. People that are trapped in the clutches of the so called ‘justice system’ are the loneliest people in the world. Degraded and dehumanized, everyday is Hell. Lots of good people surrounded by predators. There are many kind gentle souls locked up in prison. There are even more cruel, angry animals. Unfortunately, they are mixed together even sharing cells. Sometimes the only escape from unpleasant, filthy, heartbreaking situations is to lose yourself in a book. A person’s reality is where their mind is focused. Without books, a prisoner would be forced to see the box they are confined to. Four brick walls, lots of ugly metal fixtures, an open toilet, make up their world. Obnoxious smells, odors, noises, screams, thumping rap ‘music’, and hate pollute the air, thick like smog. These things disappear, at least for awhile, when a person’s reality is the book they are reading.

Books are doorways into another dimension and imagination is the key that unlocks them. Sometimes, the ability to leave an intolerable situation, if only for an hour, is the only thing keeping a person sane. A prisoner, like someone being abused or beaten, needs to leave their body momentarily. This must be a survival mechanism inherited from our ancestors. Just like the “fight or flight” reaction, there is an “escape the body” one too.

Books have been created by humans to enter another state of mind. Books are learning devices and time machines. Books are records of what our ancestors thought. They are records of historical events and glimpses of far away places, people, events, real or imagined. The information contained in books can bring comfort to suffering people and inspire others into changing the way they live their lives and interact with other people. People from small towns can learn about the great wide world that exists out there. Lonely people, gays for instance, can realize they are not alone, there are others like them that have gone through the same things they have. Minorities can see that people from similar situations they grew up in have gone on to create successful lives for themselves. Sometimes, characters in books can become friends in a lonely persons mind and heart. Books are physical manifestations of the imagination.

I wrote a poem about this miracle:

Free!
Four walls can never hold me in
They are physical, like bone and skin
The body trapped behind this wall
cannot contain my soul at all
Imagination sets me free
Beyond the fence that surrounds me.
No bricks can ever stop my mind.
No bars can keep my thoughts confined
I can go deep inside myself
Like a dusty book on a shelf
Another world exists inside
My heart is free – I am outside!

-Submitted by Michael E. Heller
Pinckneyville Correction Center, Illinois

600,000 words

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Dear PBP Friends,

Let me start off by saying thank you for all of the reading material you send those of us who are imprisoned.
Books have become important to me because it is a form of escape. Most prisoners did very little reading when they were free, and those of us who did, continue to read in prison. We spread the word about how books are so much better than TV because there are no TV ads to interrupt you.

Dictionaries are the most requested book because most prisoners did very little writing on the streets, and they don’t want friends and family to think that they are stupid and don’t know how to spell, so they need dictionaries to help them when they write letters.
My dictionary has had the biggest impact on me. I read it some times just to learn new words, and there is a section on punctuation that helps me too. I read that there are some six hundred thousand words in the English language. That in itself is a lot to learn!

Again, I thank all of you who have helped to enlighten me.


Respectfully yours,

Robert R. Oleson
F.C.I., Fort Dix, NJ

Prisoners educate themselves with books

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In the information age of today, we can literally feel the pulse of world events as they happen. Fifty years ago one could hardly conceive the advances in technology and communications we enjoy today. With cell phones, computers, the internet and satellite communications, we have instant access to the globe and beyond. Business, entertainment, shopping and education are at our fingertips anytime, anywhere, any place.

Now, imagine a world without all these advances and niceties. There is such a place that exists here in America. It is in our prisons and jails. Being in prison separates you from the rest of the world. Certainly that is what the system is there for. It punishes those who break the law and separates them from and protects society from them until they are deemed suitable to return.


Prison is a bare-bones world of isolation. Other than occasional calls home, letters and family visits, the prisoner is totally separated from the world outside the walls. There is little to distinguish one day from the next. World events become foreign and remote because the prisoner is so disconnected that prison itself becomes their world, their universe. There is little or no rehabilitation or education available to a prisoner. There are no incentives for bettering yourself. The prisoner is warehoused in a mind numbing world of sensory deprivation until his/her sentence is up, then cast back into society, often ill prepared.


Typically, prisoners spend their time in one of three ways. They spend their days watching television, which often consists of endless sporting events or sci-fi movies. Or they do absolutely nothing but ‘hang out’ wasting their time. However, there is a large segment of prisoners who take it on their own to improve and educate themselves. Doing this is largely through books. Be it fiction, non-fiction, self-help, technical, educational and so forth. Many prisoners read to occupy their minds, learn and improve themselves for their return to society. Books are also a means of escape from the boredom and deprivation of daily life behind bards. One can live, for a moment, vicariously through the characters portrayed in the stories.


Having practice psychology and taught college for over twenty years, it is amazing how many dictionaries I see in prison. I am around prisoners who have little or no education to those with advanced degrees. They all have or borrow dictionaries frequently. The under-educated use them to learn, the educated use them to try to refresh and renew the spelling and meaning of words that they once knew and are slowly eroding from their memory due to the severe lack of mental stimulation and isolation.
From my heart, I thank you Prison Book Program.

-Submitted by John Evans
Bostick State Prison, Georgia

Books help inmates prepare for the future

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Books are important to me because it keeps me in touch with reality. It gives me reason to get out of bed. For us warehouses here 10 years or more, have lost contact with family and friends who have been wore down. For being one minute the head of household, the bread winner, who now your spouse has to get a job and also take care of the money just not there.

We ask for dictionaries so we can use them to write letters and sound educated and well informed in this world where we lost dignity and are treated like kids, losers, nobodies, talked down on and belittled by guards and staff. Computer repair books are biggest impact because I can face a future and be prepared and have a skill not many others can have time to perfect.

-Submitted by Edward Iaccarino
SCI Smithfield, Pennsylvania

Poetry from an inmate: Help me!

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Help me reach out to others, who are in need, or perhaps a struggle.
Who likes to read, and open their mind, but are unfortunate, and can’t buy books at this time.
Help me!
-Submitted by Cedrick Hatten Hamilton
C.I. Annex, Florida