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While you were on the outside, you never set foot in a library!


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"While you were on the outside, you never set foot in a library! Why are you so antsy to get books now?"

I cannot tell you how frustrated I was to hear a C.O. say this to a group of inmates (myself included) that was on its way to the once-a-week library time. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who share the same sentiment as that C.O. and would just assume to do away with prison libraries altogether.

So, why are books so important to inmates?
In all honesty, it is unfortunate, but to some, books hold no value or use at all when they are locked-up, and the inventory of many prison libraries reflects it. Fortunately though, there are also a good number of us incarcerated who would much rather enrich our minds through a book. When locked up, you can try to improve yourself, you can coast through and stay the same as when you came in, or you can totally give up and come out worse than you were. Books, and the availability of them certainly help with the improvement of one's self while behind bars.

A book can provide education, inspiration, motivation, and relaxation. All things that usually do not come easy behind the walls of a correctional facility. Think about this: what would you rather an inmate do for oh, let's say, a fiver year period of incarceration? Educate and inspire/ motivate him or herself through a book, or spend that same time playing chess, playing cards, and feeling sorry for themselves? The choice should be clear, and that is why books (and especially those programs that provide them at no cost to inmates such as myself) are so important. It can make a difference between and inmate becoming productive in society upon release, and an inmate being destructive to society.

-Submitted by Danny Grote
Metropolitan Correctional Center, Illinois

Inmate needs dictionary for spelling


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The following post was transcribed exactly as it was received, misspellings and all. The Prison Book Program blog thinks it is important for its readers to see the impact of dictionaries and other educational books on inmates.

Why are dictionaries the most requested book? Well flatout there are a lot of people put in prison who can not spell -- myself inculed is one of them and is why the dicionaiey is most requested. And every one like to spell correctly when they write a letter home, or to there girl, or to there homeboys, or to there homegirl or there family. Or corts. I'am not a very good speller and the dictionariey has and still will inprove my spelling when and if I ever get another dictionariey. I got to ask for one [a dictionary] again.

-Submitted by Joshua Faulkner
Isaac Ray, Larned, Kansas

Massachusetts reforms the state's CORI system


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On Friday, August 6, 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into a law an anti-crime law that reforms the state's criminal offender records information system (CORI) to improve employment opportunities for former offenders. The law also aims to reduce recidivism by allowing non-violent offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences to receive supervision and training before being released into the community.

“The best way to break the cycle of recidivism is to make it possible for people to get a job,” said Governor Patrick. “This legislation brings our outdated criminal history database into the 21st century, ensures law enforcement agencies, employers and housing providers have access to accurate and complete records in appropriate circumstances, and helps people get back to work so they can support their families. I commend the Legislature for sending me this tough and smart anti-crime package.”

The CORI Reform bill enhances employment and
economic opportunities for citizens with criminal records, by sealing misdemeanor convictions after five years and felony convictions after 10 years, so long as there are no subsequent offenses. Murder and sex offenses will continue to remain visible in the system permanently.

Says Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, "This bill will provide new opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society while maintaining a strong focus on public safety."

Before the law was passed, many inmates were leaving the prison system with no training, supervision, or access to programs that would ease their re-entry into the community. The lack of support services contributed to high rates of recidivism. The newly-signed law allow some inmates imprisoned in Houses of Corrections for non-violent drug offenses the chance to be eligible for parole after serving half of their mandatory minimum sentence, if no "aggravating factors" are found. As a condition of this parole, inmates will have the opportunity to participate in education and training programs that will reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend following their release.

"This victory is the culmination of years of tireless work to bring the issue to the forefront and build support for change," said Wilnelia Rivera, Chair of the Commonwealth CORI Coalition and Neighbor to Neighbor Campaigns Director. "Today, our state has made good policy for public safety and our communities. CORI reform will stop the revolving door of recidivism, strengthen families, and cut costs to taxpayers in the process."

Books are a really big help


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Hello! My name is Kelly J. VanPatten, and I am writing to explain both why books assist me and other prisoners, and how books improve our quality of life. All the books we receive not only assist us in personal growth, but also give us valuable materials that allow us to use our time more constructively and positively.

Personally, books have given me valuable skills. My ability to write, read and communicate ideas has improved. I no longer struggle to express myself.

Further, books are an excellent educational tool. Many of us are not high school graduates, have low readings skills, and struggle comprehending our GED materials, so reading [donated books] is one way to improve in the area of reading and comprehension in our classes.

I have received carpentry books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. These books are great! I'm learning a new job skill I can use once I get out [of prison]. Plus, I have increased by vocabulary.

These books are a really big help. I know that they really help me. They are not just sitting in my locker, either. When I finish with them, I share them. So please, if you can, continue to send books to me and other inmates.

-Submitted by Kelly J. VanPatten
Deer Ridge Correctional Institute, Oregon

An avid bibliophile loves Clancy, Grisham, and Koontz


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"You are under arrest!"

Those words changed my life forever.
As a prisoner, I am deprived of many things I formerly took for granted: easy access to information, a plethora of entertainment options, and interaction with the outside world. Although I grew up as an avid bibliophile, the busyness and pressures of daily life, family responsibilities, running a successful business, and many other pressing matters quickly consumed my working hours. My reading time was limited to professional reading, although Grisham, Clancy, Koontz, and a few others often kept me company on cross-country flights. But my, how times have changed. I now have ample "time" while serving my "time". For me, and from what I observe from many I live and work with, books serve as an invaluable source of information, an opportunity to escape (legally, of course), and a wonderful source of inspiration.

The outside world is immersed in the information age. The technological explosion of the Internet, extending from home computers to cell phones and BlackBerry [devices], has quickly consumed our society. President Obama had to receive special dispensation to keep his BlackBerry. (Who was really going to tell him no!?) Of course, inside the prison walls, I sit on an island of isolation. Books become my information haven, a treasure trove for information and education.

While it may be cliche, it is also a truism: "Prison will make you bitter or better." I have chosen to invest my time to learn as much as I can. A few years ago, Congress cut off educational funding for inmates (presumably so they could bail out future felons at AIG, GM, and others). An inmate's information and education, therefore, becomes largely a do-it-yourself project. Books, some from the prison library, a few I am able to buy, and ones generously given from organizations such as the Prison Book Program, provide a life blood of information -- or my very own "Internet".

Every inmate, at one time or another, fantasizes about escape. An adventure, thriller, mystery, or even a horror story can provide the means to escape the often lonely, monotonous existence inside the gray walls and razor wire fences. My personal favorites are [written by] Koontz, Clancy, Grisham, and Lesocrat. Getting caught is a wonderful -- legal -- escape.

Stripped of worldly possessions, isolated, and often abandoned by family and friends, many men, as a last resort, turn to God. For some, their "jailhouse religion" lasts onto to the prison gates, but for many who sincerely seek the ultimate truth, faith in God becomes a source of peace, comfort, and even joy. For me, the Bible has become much more than an ancient holy book -- it has become alive. In many ways it is the ultimate library, containing stories of adventure, love friendship, war, inspiration, miracles, and hope. Moreover, by studying and following the precepts and principles contained in the pages of this treasure, what I once considered to be nothing more than a dead religion has instructed and inspired me to believe in hope and the future. I am eternally grateful.

Nothing can describe the sense of hopelessness and despair I encountered when I first came to prison. Books have become my lifeline and the foundation allowing me to recover, rehabilitate, and rebuild my life. The instruction, entertainment, and inspiration they bring provide home when I am hopeless, escape when I am entrapped, and a sure friend when it seems I am friendless. God bless those who taught me to read!

-Submitted by Gary W. Hardy
ASP Florence South, Arizona

How to be tough without breaking the law


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What kind of book has had an impact on me? Westerns. The reason? They show that you can still be a bad ass without being on the wrong side of the law. They also teach you what hardships really were back then, and how comparatively easy we/I have it now.

I would like to let young people out there who think it is impossible to get a job or go to school, and think that crime is easy, that they are wrong! Prison is impossible. Everything you do [outside of prison], you are not allowed to do in prison. Think about that! I wish I had. Now I'm only a number.

-Submitted by Charles Alienello
Martin Correctional Institute, Florida

Books give valuable skills


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Books have given me valuable skills. My ability to write, read, and communicate ideas has improved. I no longer struggle to express myself.

Further, books are an excellent educational tool. Many of us [inmates] are not high school graduates, and have low reading skills and struggle to comprehend our G.E.D. materials, so reading is a way to improve our comprehension in classes.

I have received carpentry books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus [from the Prison Book Program]. These books are great! I'm learning a new job skill I can use once I get out [of prison]. Plus, I have increased my vocabulary.

Many inmates here also request history or language books so that we can identify with our ancestral heritage. That may be German, Spanish, or other European countries. The language skills we learn from language books can also be put on a resume.

These books are a really big help. I know that they really help me and they are not just sitting in my locker. When I finish them I share them. So, if you can, please continue to send books to me and other inmates!

-Submitted by Kelly J. VanPatten
Deer Ridge Correctional Institute, Oregon

You are what you think


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You Are What You Think by David Stoop, PhD, is the book that has made the biggest impact on me [while in prison]. This book helped me to identify my own thoughts (something most of us need to do). It also showed me how my thoughts affected by feelings and, as a result, my actions. It helped me turn some of the depression I was battling (well before my crime) around, as well as many of my self-esteem issues. I have (for the most part) taken back control of my mind instead of just letting it run wild. I force myself to see what my subconscious is telling my conscious; thus, I'm able to make more positive choices.

Thank you [for sending You Are What You Think]; because you cared enough to give, my life was changed!

-Submitted by Richard C. Allen Sr.
Lake Correctional Institution, Florida

From You Are What You Think:
Attitude is everything. Attitude is what makes the difference between those who succeed and those who fail. And it's easy to see-in other people. But it's not always easy to recognize when our own attitude needs adjustment, or to know how to change it. In You Are What You Think, David Stoop shows you how to use self-talk to make positive changes in your attitudes and beliefs. Self-talk can be private speech, thoughts, or external speech, all of which shapes emotions and behavior for good or bad. This popular, revolutionary book will help you: * choose healthy, positive thoughts * respond rather than react to circumstances * overcome guilt, anger, anxiety, and stress * release the power of faith * and more. You can use self-talk to gain control of the way you feel and act. You can turn out-of-control into self-control and make your emotions work for you rather than against you. You Are What You Think tells you how.

The importance of education in the prison system


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To define the word "education" would be for one to be enlightened and obtain knowledge through learning. Since I can relate to this topic on a personal level, I found that education in the prison system comes in various forms, such as academic, vocational, drug & alcohol treatment, self-help/support groups, mental/sexual/physical health classes, college courses, and employment training. To take advantage of these fundamental opportunities now, would be an incentive to anyone who is open-minded, willing to change their life, and trying to never repeat this unfortunate experience [of being in prison].

The Department of Corrections (DOC) did a study from 1992-2002 that confirms an average of 50% of all inmates who enter the prison system do not have a high school diploma or G.E.D. and about 75% have no vocational or collegiate education. Another vital statistic is that the recidivism rate of inmates who don't get their G.E.D. and/or participate in educational programs while in prison, are at an alarmingly high rate of 65-75%. These statistics are not claiming that if someone is uneducated or under-skilled they're prone to go to or return to prison, but [the statistics] do imply that one who obtains an education or special training will have a better chance of self-betterment and success upon their release and thereafter if they implement the skills he/she learned in prison.

Having said that, let me briefly describe the most common types of educational programs the DOC has to offer. First and foremost is the G.E.D. classes that help improve individuals' basic academic skills. This gives the individual a chance to earn a diploma and allow them to further their education at a vocational and/or collegiate level. Then there's the drug & alcohol treatment, which educates and gives inmates a better understanding of their addition, [and lets them] learn coping and life skills, as well as techniques to live a sober and productive lifestyle. The DOC also offers a wide range of vocational training programs, such as barber school, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and carpentry training, accounting, and computers and printing. [These] are just a fraction of the certified vocational programs available to inmates. Last but not least, the DOC provides a multitude of life skills classes and support groups that educate and help inmates learn more about themselves and how to prevent them from coming back to prison. These programs are known as Violence Prevention, Pre-Vocational [training], Goal Setting, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Loss and Grief [group], Money Management, and other related groups.

How are these educational programs beneficial to inmates? From my personal experience, when I've implemented these programs and education in my life, it has helped inspire me to pursue and achieve attainable goals, which in turn gives rise to my self-esteem, confidence, self-worth, character, respect for others and myself, gratitude, and a sense of purpose in life. In addition, it has also taught me how to utilize my coping skills and react appropriately to life's adversities, [while also instilling] positive morals and values, responsibility, and accountability for my actions. Finally, these classes and programs showed me how to be a positive role-model to my children, family, loved ones, friends, and community!

In closing, I have discovered through research, personal experience, and observation that education in the prison system... is the foundation to a new beginning and a better chance to succeed during incarceration and especially after being released. My personal opinion is to take full advantage of the multiple educational programs that the DOC offers. It will not only be beneficial, prosperous, and advantageous to anyone incarcerated, but also to their loved ones, friends, their community, and society.

-Submitted by Greg Segars
Huntingdon SCI, Pennsylvania

Many prisoners take advantage of educational programs when they are offered and better their lives. In a tough economy, however, educational programs for inmates are often among the first to be cut. That's where organizations like the Prison Book Program step in; in addition to novels, PBP sends test-prep books, dictionaries, and educational materials to prisoners who request them.

Using the dictionary for help in college correspondence classes


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I never knew that there was a Prison Book Program until another inmate overheard my conversation of not being able to find a certain book in our prison library. He gave me an address and explained that [the books from the Prison Book Program] are donated books at no cost to the inmate and there was a possibility I could find the book(s) I was looking for.

An inmate can either do positive or negative time during incarceration. If the inmate chooses negative time, he/she will complete incarceration and leave the same way they cam in, not making any changes. If the inmate chooses positive time, he/she will take advantage of education, cognitive skills, self-help, and spiritual or religious programs to make changes and improve their life. Unfortunately, there isn't always books available to help the inmate gain the knowledge needed to make these positive changes.

Dictionaries [are important] because you cannot checkout a dictionary out of the prison library. A lot of reading, writing, and studying is done during lock-down time and in the inmates' living area. There is several reasons why prisoners need a dictionary. There are inmates who are enrolled in Mandatory Literacy education program, trying to learn eighth grade-level education, and a dictionary can build his/her vocabulary. This is also the first time for many inmates to have to write to family and friends, and they use the dictionary during writing for correct spelling, to be understood, and to avoid embarrassment. I personally, as well as others, use a dictionary for definition of words when working on college correspondence classes.

I am grateful that there is a Prison Book Program available when needed. It is also nice to know that there are individuals who care enough to donate or contribute to this program. Who knows? This book program could be that one place for an inmate to find information to encourage [his/her] change so they can be successful when re-entering into society.

-Submitted by Ruben C. Carrico
ASP-Kingman, Arizona

How the diary of Anne Frank changed my life


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I would like to share my story of how books have changed my life.

First, I think I should give you a brief history of my life. I am a 45 year old man who has been an addict since the age of 10. Drugs were introduced to me by older kids in the neighborhood. They thought it would be funny and “cool” to see me stumble around saying and doing goofy things. I didn’t make it past 7th grade and ended up in prison at the age of 18. I have since spent 28 years in and out of prison for crimes committed to support my addiction.

At the age of 43 I was once again in prison. I was severely depressed and had
no hope for ever breaking the cycle of drugs and prison. I was completely alone and contemplating suicide. That’s when I saw the last 30 minutes of the movie The Diary of Anne Frank. I was moved so much that I went to the prison library looking for a copy of her actual diary, but they didn’t have one. I heard about an interlibrary loan project that might be able to help me find a copy, and in 6 weeks I had this smiling little angel in my hands.

I read her diary in one sitting and I have not been the same ever since. This little girl made this grown man cry. This little girl held mirrors up to me from every angle, making it impossible for
me to avoid myself any longer. All my self pity and blaming had disappeared. This little girl smacked me across my face and forced me to wake up.

I’d like to share one of the many quotes by Anne that helped change me forever. “If you know you are weak, why not do something about it? Why not train your character? Because it’s easier not to.”

It has been 2 ½ years since I first found Anne Frank and a lot has happened with me since then. I wrote everyone and anyone with requests for more books about Anne and the Holocaust in general. I saved my prison allowance and purchased several books of my own. I had never read this many books in my entire life.

I gained an education from these history books that changed my life forever. My depression lifted. I admitted myself into an intense six-month in-house prison drug and alcohol and behavior modification program from which I graduated. I completed a course in basic automotive technology and I have spent the past 8 months in upholstery class recently completed my first reupholstered chair.

I must also mention the effects all the other books [about the Holocaust] have had on me. One in particular is Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman. She survived the Holocaust, but her story was like nothing I had ever heard. I will no longer complain about prison food or clothing. I am completely aware of how fortunate I am and this awareness will never leave me.

I owe so much to Anne, Alicia, and the 6 million other beautiful souls [I read about]. The only way to honor them is to devote the rest of my life to helping others. I now have a purpose in life.

-Submitted by Edward Robinson
SCI-Coal Township, Pennsylvania

May Newsletter


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The latest issue of the Prison Book Program newsletter is out! You can check it out online, and read updates, poetry from inmates and recent stats.

Want a preview? This year the Prison Book Program has served about 2,500 prisoners by sending nearly 5,000 books. Who packages all those books? Volunteers at the 822 volunteer sessions held this year. You can find the rest of the info in our newsletter... What are you waiting for? Get reading!

Books are worth their weight in gold


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Books are worth their weight in gold. They inspire us, educate, and, sometimes, prevent riots or other self-destructive behavior.

Such book as dictionaries help with crossword puzzles or teach us foreign languages, such as English, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, or Hebrew. There’s this one book entitled Shogun, which tells of Japanese words [and facts]. For instance, I didn’t know women could be Samurai (1140 – 1869). Other things it taught me include (but are not limited to) “please” (dozo) and “thank you” (domo). [The book] paints a possible, seemingly realistic portrait of possible occurrences of Feudal Japan, Britain, Spain, Portugal, and to a lesser degree, Eastern Feudal China. I had to check the binding to check whether it was fiction or non-fiction! I found Shogun very inspiring.

[To the] bookstores [that] insert such reading material between the hands of inmates such as myself –

-Submitted by Michael Joseph Pederson
Dade Correctional Institution, Florida

Books are a conduit to a better life


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Books are important to prisoners for many reasons. Some use them for a needed escape from the drudgery of their existence. Others find solace and safety in the worlds books create for them. Others use them for research as they continue their educations or prepare for release. Books are a conduit to a better life through education. After all, the one thing a person cannot take away from another person is their education. It is through education and preparedness that we will successfully reintegrate into society. It is through education that we will help our families, ourselves, and eventually, society. Remember, we are still your neighbors, families, and co-workers. When we return home we will continue to be all these things. These books that are donated to us do not ensure success but serve as an additional bulwark against failure.

Besides major religious texts, the book that can most affect an
inmate, any inmate, is a good dictionary. The reason is simple. Communication is the most important tool in our arsenal. In dealing with society, our families, or each other, we depend on our use of language to affect change, steer our children, avoid strife and distress, to seek work or a better life. A good dictionary is the basic building block in any education and a requisite for a good one. I do not possess one here [in prison], but I yearn for an excellent dictionary! The worlds one can explore in language are the basic building blocks of conflict resolution. Whether at work, school, prison, or the world stage, we all share basic diplomatic gifts dependent on our abilities to communicate. The biggest failing of prisons is their failure to educate.

I appeal to [the Prison Book Program] to continue donating and sending books to inmates. In your own way you do more to rebuild society and families than all the prisons in the world. There are no bars in our minds, only in the hearts of men. Thank you.

-Submitted by Kevin
SCI-Houtzdale, Pennsylvania

The Prison Book Program is raising money to send 1,000 college-level dictionaries to prisoners. For more information -- or to donate! -- click here.

A prison "book club": to read is to grow/know


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From the time I was a child 'til I became an adult, my mother read to me and stressed strongly the importance of reading. She said it "was a part of knowing, having knowledge of something -- people, places, and things." I look at it now, as allowing the mind to travel to places I'm (temporarily) unable to experience at this moment, yet [reading] is a beautiful thing.

We have said [in prison] "if I should have, could have, would have..." If I had known or read a book about the law, perhaps I wouldn't be in this present state. But now, since obtaining that knowledge of the law and other place, people, and things, I feel it's my duty to share with others that which is of benefit and it's not my intent to take the credit. The credit is due in part to my family and the Prison Book Program.

Reading is essential to us inmates 'cause it sort of supplies us with an even-plain when looking into the window of society, and that's speaking specifically about when we're reading materials from or concerning the outside world. Needless to say, reading helps us know and understand the laws and constitution of this government. Upon arriving here in prison, one is given an "orientation manual" which basically contains rules. One must know these things in order to make one's time easier. A fellow prisoner and myself now have a sort of "book club", where we not only share books, but --when time presents -- we discuss issues and topics too. In doing so it kind of reduces the violence 'cause now and then you have a small portion of the yard engaging in something beneficial and positive.

Reading is exercise to the mind as a workout is to the body; they both work hand in hand, not to mention give relief from stress as well as anxiety and depression.

Hope this helps somebody. To read is to grow/know.

-Submitted by Tyrone Williams
Menard CC, Illinois



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Welcome to the Prison Book Program's new blog!

The Prison Book Program has been providing inmates with free
reading materials since 1972. Over the years we've heard from countless prisoners who are grateful to have access to books for a number of reasons. Many inmates have limited literacy skills and are thankful to receive dictionaries or reference books to improve their reading skills. Others are simply glad to have books for something to do. Some inmates have been profoundly changed by books they read in prison and want to share their insights with the world. And thousands of prisoners simply enjoy having access to comics, philosophy books, novels in foreign languages, historical texts, autobiographies, thrillers, westerns, legal handbooks, GLBT literature, cookbooks, GED study guides, religious texts, and the dozens of other reading materials the Prison Book Program sends out, free of charge.

Our goal is to share the writing of these grateful prisoners with you. We'll be posting essays and letters about reading, books, the Prison Book Program, learning, and other relevant topics, all written and submitted by inmates. We'll also be posting news about our program and we'll share information about how you can get involved.

Stay tuned!