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 –
Domo!

-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

Welcome!

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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!