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

Books are better than any counseling we can receive

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At correctional camps like the one I’m at where there is so little to do, we call it “doing dead time”. There are only a few things we have to pass the time here, TV, exercise, a job, and reading. Thanks to programs which donate books to inmates, we get to escape from prison in the pages of a story or expand our mind to prepare us for the day we get out with knowledge through education books, dictionaries and spiritual books.

It is too easy to side into a world of hate and the classic movie prisoner, but books allow us to escape here even if for a short time. Books are better than any counseling we can receive. Many of us never had the time or desire to read before coming to prison. But when books are discovered here they are not a chore or requirement like everything else here so they can be considered life savers or at least time savers.

Believe it or not if the average inmate had to choose between losing their TV or their books most would surely pick keeping their books. So programs that help us get our hands on these life savers help keep us afloat and come out at the end of our time better people.

-Submitted by John Woolard
Franklin Correctional, Florida

Art from an inmate

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-Submitted by Cedrick J. Hatten
Santa Rosa Correctional Institute, Florida

An inmate explains why books and dictionaries are important

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Why are books so important to prisoners?

It has been my experience here at Northwest Florida Reception Center that gaining access into prison (so called) library is intentionally being denied by means of coercive tactics designed to thwart inmates attempting to gain access. To explain difficulties allow me to expound upon the malady. No library sign-up forms are being made available to inmates and although “some” inmates do gain access to the inadequately staffed and stocked library system, most do not, myself included.

The fact is the library system has been nothing more than tolerated by prison officials by federal government mandate in order to look to federal overseers as though a library is being adequately provided to inmates. There is in fact a building with a poorly, inadequately stocked library but the great majority of inmates are without any access.

So it should be evident that inmate’s only feasible recourse is to obtain materials from outside sources such as the Prison Book Program.

Why are dictionaries so important to prisoners?

Facts are the majority of inmates are low income African American, Hispanic or Caucasian. Many do not have a high school education and the ones who enroll in prison adult education programs (12 GED), upon completion of programs inmates cannot read at high school level, therefore inmate’s cannot spell either at the high school level. Prisons are filled with uneducated or inadequately educated lower society. Dictionaries are utilized in order to spell words when doing legal work by many inmates, as well as spelling when writing letters, provided the inmate does not room with an educated inmate whom he can ask how to spell various words.

To conclude: most prison inmates are well below high school level of education, therefore dictionaries are widely utilized!

“These men cannot read and write or spell like you or I…” sad but true.

What book as had the largest impact on me and why?

The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White
This book was written approximately 100 years ago and although I am an avid reader and student of the Bible, I was intrigued and enlightened by the method of writing utilized by Ms. White in her work. The author illuminated the life and teaching of “the Master” Jesus in a most unusual and (extraordinary) way. I read the book approximately ten times in six months and each read provided new insight to the love of God…and into the mind of the Master!

Thank you all for sending literature into the prison system!

-Submitted by Ralph D. White
Northwest Florida Reception Center, Florida

Books have the power to change lives

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First of all, I’d like to ‘thank you’ for all the books your organization has sent me. The books have been a great help and I’m learning more and more as I read. Thank you for helping me better myself with the knowledge and wisdom from books. Your program is wonderful.

To me, books are very important to prisoners because books have the power to change lives and take one out of darkness and bring one to light. A lot of inmates as myself don’t have family or anyone on the outside to send in books or other materials and we’re at a standstill as far as learning some things that one needs to know to be successful in society. But with the prison book program, inmates as myself can learn new and different things that help and make a major difference. The books that I have received from the Prison Book Program, has made me more positive. The books are maturing, inspiring and encouraging me to reach my fullest potential. It’s a true blessing to have a prison book program. I thank God constantly for this program and I pray for and bless the people who have created this program as well as the people who donate and help to make all these things possible. Thank you for changing my life and leading me to a positive path that I know will help me be successful in society. I don’t have any family or friends therefore, if it wasn’t for your program, I wouldn’t have any books. Thanks to you and everyone who’s helping. God Bless you all!

-Submitted by Frank Wings
Pontiac Correctional Center, Illinois

To get a piece of mail is very uplifting

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I would like to start by saying thanks to the Prison Book Program. Thank you for sending resources to prisoners! I would like you to know how much this program and others like it are appreciated by people like myself. It is one of the best feelings you can get in prison. The feeling that someone cares.

Books are important to prisoners because of a few reasons that come to my mind. One reason is we have a lot of idol time. We need things to keep our minds busy. We are always waiting for something, someone, to be counted, or are locked down. This is how my time is spent at the place I am incarcerated at.


Books are also important to prisoners for information and knowledge. Books are some of the only ways that people like myself can learn anything. We have no access to the internet. We have no way to further our education past a G.E.D. There are no federal grants or student loans for prisoners. For people like myself, books are the only avenue open to increase my knowledge and help further educate myself.


Yet another reason books are so important to prisoners, the simple fact that someone took the time to send us a book. This simple gesture means so much. Just thinking someone cares enough. Mail is one of the few things we as prisoners can receive. Just to hear your name called and get a piece of mail is very uplifting. It really puts a smile on your face.


Dictionaries are the most requested book because of many reasons. The reasons I use a dictionary are to check my spelling, find meanings of words from books I am reading and so other prisoners may use it if they need to. We have no resources available for our use. In the institution I am currently at, we can only go to the library twice a week. Also, only five at a time out of eighty six are allowed at the library. Most of the time, the only way to use any kind of reference book is to have one yourself.


I would like to thank the prison book program again. Every person in prison has a different situation. My situation is different from many other people but it might also be the same as many other incarcerated people. Thank you for making a difference in the life of a prisoner!

-Submitted by Robert Forbes
Santa Rosa Correctional Institution Annex, Florida

Art from an inmate

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Drawing of Obama
Submitted by Anthony L. Fletcher
Pontiac Correctional Center, Florida

"The Prison Book Program is a necessity"

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I am writing today to explain why the Prison Book Program is a necessity.

This program has been a great help to me and countless others, by providing us with the material we need to expand our minds and open our eyes to the joys of reading.

With the free dictionaries we are able to understand the words we read not only that with almost all of the school programs being taken out of the Illinois prison system we have to rely on our self and programs like this to educate ourselves.

So I hope that I can encourage people to continue to support the prison book program and inspire others into helping.

Thank you!

-Submitted by Torrence W. Slater
Menard C.C., Illinois

Books of joy

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I am a 58 year old white male doing 20 flat years in a Louisiana prison. I came from a very dysfunctional home in Kentucky. I started out life more or less as a functional illiterate child with very little education. Somehow, I did manage to get a 8th grade education. It was years later that I realized that I need more education in order to survive in the “real world”. I learned that having a good education meant having a good job and a place in life itself.

I had a lot of problems learning to read. I found out that being able
to read was going to be “a must do” in my life. With reading comes knowledge and with knowledge comes understanding of the world around me. And with that knowledge and understanding comes hopes and dreams. I feel it’s very important to have hopes and dreams. It makes life more enjoyable.

Books have become a very important factor in my life. Books have given me the knowledge to survive in a world filled with unknowns.

A standard Dictionary has given me more joy than any other book I’ve ever read. The dictionary has given me a better understanding of the world around me. Thanks to the dictionary I know thing that were a “big blank” to me at one time in my life. Thanks to a dictionary I can now write (spell) my feelings on paper. I can tell others I know something – I can ask someone in a written letter a question and they will understand what I am trying to say or ask.

Reading has become a very important part of my life. I find a lot more joy in living by having a good book to read. By rule, I read nonfiction books. I like reading about real people. People who have made their mark in life by doing something great.

Needless to say; finding a good book in prison is almost impossible. So having a place like “Prison Book Program,” a place where a prisoner can write, to request reading material of all kinds, is really appreciated by inmates like myself.

And being able to receive this reading material at no cost to the inmate is a great thing also. Most inmates have no money to buy books with. So I’ll always be appreciative of places like the “Prison Book Program”, and the people who donate books and money, so they can send free books to the inmates who are in prison around the country.

-Submitted by Howard R. West
Rayburn Correctional Center, Louisiana

Webster's Dictionary has made an impact on me

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Prison is an environment that can either help us grow intellectually or fall farther away from learning. Prisoners therefore have a choice, read and learn, maintain a former way of thinking, or digress farther away from learning.

Prisoners who desire to learn can find various sources, television, newspapers, dictionaries, almanacs, encyclopedias, or textbooks. Some of these are readily available, and some not so much. This is why organizations that provide materials are in such high demand. I know of inmates who came in with a 4th grade level of intelligence and now can quote parts of the constitution, or handle legal work or write books and are published. They had to obtain knowledge from somewhere: Books!

When you send dictionaries and other reference books inmates use them to look up information that is given to them. They listen to the news and look up words they either don’t understand, or think are being used incorrectly. Either way I have seen some pretty used and worn dictionaries.

The book that has had the greatest impact on my life was a book entitled, “Webster’s Dictionary.” I know that sounds weird, but it has had such an impact on me. I use it multiple times a day and learn much by it.

-Submitted by Matthew Leighton
USP Marion, Kansas

Poem from an inmate

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Books are pretty roads, silent paths
Sacred tools and treasure maps
Filled with quotes and facts
With emotion, struggle and laughs
Building blocks for mankind, the future
A way to outdo and grow past what you’re used to
I’ve learned so much these last years and…
Give many thanks for such a break, to the Prison Book Program

-Submitted by Jeramy Walter
Fishkill Correctional Facility, New York

Answers from an inmate

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The Prison Book Program asked inmates questions about books. Here's what one inmate from Virginia had to say.



What are prisoners doing with books?
Some keep [paperbacks], but a few of us trade for hard back books because they last longer and if it’s paper back if one cover is torn the c/o’s [correctional officers] will throw it into the trash because they say it’s altered. And the only people (prisoners) that can get library books are the people in general population. Segregated prisoners that are allowed to get books from the library have only a week to read before turning it back in.

Why are dictionaries the most requested books?
Half of VA prisoners are housed in long-term segregation cells for 24 hours a day. When a prisoner requests a dictionary it’s to sharpen our spelling skill etc. And another reason is that the dictionaries helps us out filling out informal complaints concerning issues in prison.

Besides major religious texts what book has had the biggest impact on you while in prison and why?
Here at Sussex 1 State Prison the chaplain doesn’t send anything but Christian text books. Anything other than that you have to get it from a free bookstore like the “Prison Book Program”. I truly believe that the indigent prisoners all over the world are very grateful for book programs such as P.B.P. and others out there.

Why are books so important to prisoners?
The reason why they are so important to prisoners is that 90% of us don’t have the funds to buy books ourselves and when we try to buy books 100% of the books that interest us we can’t get because the prison system has a disapproval book/magazine book with thousands of books/mags that they don’t allow us to have. The prisoners who are indigent these FREE book programs are very helpful. And this is why I think books are so important to prisoners.

-Submitted by Kevin C. Stacy
Sussex 1 State Prison, Virginia

A Program of Books

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A program of books,
was all it took,
to open my mind,
while I was doing time.
And to help me find,
a better outlook,
I turned,
to a program of books.


-Submitted by Cedrick Hatten
Hamilton C.I. Annex, Florida

Poetry-writing inmate helps Prison Book Program win $1,000 grant

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The CTK Foundation from Austin, Texas, has named the Prison Book Program the winner of one of its 2011 Heart and Soul Grant. PBP won the $1,000 Blogger’s Choice Award with a poem by Jim Huber, an inmate from Leavenworth, Kansas.

Jim has submitted work to PBP before, with his essay Literature has been my great escape... Is it yours too? Below, you can read his winning poem in its entirety and in its shorter form, which was used for the Heart and Soul Grant competition.

With the new grant money, the Prison Book Program will be able to send more than 300 packages of books to prisoners across the United States. More poetry from inmates will be posted on the PBP blog in the coming days.



One More Book Please!


Hope has long passed and despite my long prayers
Like a ghost I still wander, feeling like no one cares
Drifting through the days that blend, in a mindless trance
Surviving in this prison has only been by mere chance.

Suspicion, fear and anger have long ruled in this place
I’m gone now from the world without even a trace
You look for reprieve, far from the prison rage
And realize the tranquil peace found in the written page

In a concrete corner, hope your pain lets you be
The story in your hand can truly set you free
There’s happiness in losing yourself in thoughts of another place
You may very well feel the warm soothing of God’s grace

Oh, joy you can feel, the time you can spend
Feeling FREE AS A BIRD… until you reach the end
In closing the cover, a tear falls to the floor
Please send another book… Please just one more!

Submitted by Jim Huber
US Penitentiary, Kansas



One More Book Please! (short version)

Suspicion, fear and anger have long ruled in this place
I’m gone now from the world without even a trace
You look for reprieve, far from the prison rage
And realize the tranquil peace found in the written page

Oh, joy you can feel, the time you can spend
Feeling FREE AS A BIRD… until you reach the end
In closing the cover, a tear falls to the floor
Please send another book… Please just one more!

Submitted by Jim Huber
US Penitentiary, Kansas

Plato considers all the possiblities

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The one book that has had the greatest impact on my life has been The Complete Works of Plato. It has helped me to keep my mind open and to consider all of the possibilities before opting for a course of action.

I have only because acquainted with the writings of Plato since I have been incarcerated. Had I read those pages years ago, I am certain I would not be in prison today.

-Submitted by Jeffery Watson
State Correctional Institution at Dallas, Pennsylvania

Books are necessary for education

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Educational programs in today's prisons are inadequate to say the least. Over the years, funding for prison educational programs has been put to pay for housing, feeding, and the basic needs of the ever-increasing inmate population.

Gone are the days of college education for inmates through federal Pell Grants. With few exceptions, only the most basic educational opportunities are available, and even then they are not available to the entire inmate population. Therefore, inmates who desire to improve themselves through education have to take matters into their own hands, and books are as necessary to this process as liquid is to quenching a thirst.


The word "autodidact" refers to someone who is self-educated. I learned this from a dictionary that was donated to me by the Prison Book Program. The dictionary is an essential tool in the job of self-education. While many prison commissaries offer a dictionary for sale to inmates, these overpriced "pocket" dictionaries are little more than a list of the most commonly used words and are of minimal use to anyone trying to improve themselves through education.
[Books] keep my mind open. Please support the Prison Book Program!

-Submitted by Jeffrey Watson
State Correctional Institution at Dallas, Pennsylvania

Help needed to prepare for GED

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Like many states, Oklahoma prisons offer very few programs for inmates to better themselves and prepare to return to society. And that was before the budget cuts. There's no point in cutting the programs budget. There are so few programs and they are offered so infrequently that they're practically nonexistent.

My assigned prison job is to tutor inmates who want to obtain their General Educational Development (GED) certifications. I love helping people discover and learn new things; however, being a tutor at Mid-State Prison is not an easy job. I have very few materials to help my students learn.

The GED books provided by the prison's education department are a decade old. The GED test was modified a few years ago. I have
no materials to help students with the new test. Moreover, some of my students cannot read well enough to understand the outdated books and I have no material to help them improved their reading skills. It's sort of a Catch-22.

Books are important for prisoners not only for entertainment and relaxation, but also to help hone their reading skills. I don't particularly care what types of books my students read -- as long as they're reading
something. They are willing to put forth the effort if I can find books for them.

There's a saying you may have heard: There is no difference between the person who can't read and the one who doesn't read even though he can. Unfortunately, that now includes those who can't get anything to read.

-Submitted by Corvus Sagire
Oklahoma Mid-State Prison, Oklahoma

Better World Books grants PBP $5,000 for GED Initiative

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Our very own Prison Book Program is a winner of the first annual Better World Books Literacy and Education in Action Program (LEAP) award!

Through the grant, 220 prisoners will receive GED test preparation materials and dictionaries so that they can earn their GEDs and have viable options for work when they are released.

According to the Department of Justice, 77% of prisoners have not received a high school diploma. Yet GEDs are necessary for almost any job, and a New York Department of Corrections study showed that prisoners who earn their GED are up to 14% less likely to return to prison within the next three years.

Visit Better World Books for more information on the LEAP awards and the six other grant winners. And visit the Prison Book Program to make your own donation!

"Literature has been my great escape... Is it yours too?"

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Before my incarceration I had read less than five books in my entire life. There was never time... Jobs, kids, cars, friends, yard work, social engagements, cooking, cleaning, home repairs, neighbors, church. You know what I mean.

Then I was sent to prison for the first time at the age of 40, with a life sentence. The shock, despair, and hopelessness were overwhelming. It may be understandable that the prison experience was nearly more than I could bear. Concrete, steel, noise, lock downs, belittling guards, strip searches, anger, shakedowns, violence, hatred. My sanity was leaving me. I had to get away.

I started to read.

A little at first... a book here, a short story there. Soon, I would voraciously devour anything in print.
Charitable and compassionate organizations like the Prison Book Program would selflessly send me (and other inmates) books, free of charge. Thanks to their kind efforts I was shown the wonderment of Africa, by Wilber Smith. Stephen Hawkins opened the Universe to me in A Brief History of Time. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia introduced me to the world of literature in Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. There I laughed and cried to the great works of masters like Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and countless others. Ben Bova took me into the future and to other planets. With Terry Brooks, I stood in awe and wonder at the power of the Efstones and the wielding of truth by the Sword of Shannara. In almanacs I discovered that, in prison, I am not part of the few, but rather the many 2.5 million of us all together.

Without the beauty of reading, my sanity, if not my very life would have been forfeit.

Literature has been my great escape... Is it yours too?

-Submitted by Jim Huber
Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas

"Through reading, I found myself."

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I'd have to say that the book that has had the biggest impact on me while incarcerated has to be The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Though I am not of the Islamic faith, nor am I militant, this book has impacted upon my way of seeing things profoundly. It has taught me that I can utilize this time into becoming whatever I set my mind on becoming.

Young Malcolm was a drug dealer, drug addict, and burglar. But instead of dedicating his sentence to entertainment and pastimes, he applied himself to change. He studied hard, copying the dictionary -- words and their definitions -- out entirely. He learned discipline and fund religion. He began to question the reason for things being as they are and investigating the drive behind them. In sum, Malcolm used his prison time to become a better person. To hone his potential and when released be better for his stay.

When I came to prison I wanted to do something with this time and be prepared for the eventuality of these doors opening and my going back out into society. I didn't want to leave here (after all the years spent) the same person I was when I entered.

Everybody who comes into these walls changes. For the better or for the worse is entirely up to them. But change we all do.

Most inmates just want to get through their sentences in one piece and try to distract themselves through various means until their release, whether through sports, TV, working out, or reading. [They are] just trying to pass the time until their release.

Malcolm showed me that I can "use" the time. Or should I say make use of it. So I study. And I've studied hard.

First I acquired a dictionary from the Prison Book Program and bettered my command of English. Reading, writing, and speaking.

Second, I mastered a second language. Spanish. Reading, writing, and speaking.

I studied my heritage. Being that I am biracial, Puerto Rican and Irish, I was confused as to who I was. So I asked the Prison Book Program to send me information on these backgrounds.

Through reading, I found myself. By reading Malcolm X's autobiography, I became motivated and found direction. I became a better person from reading a myriad of materials provided to me and countless other prisoners by various prison book programs. I would like to thank these programs' volunteers for their dedication in bringing hope and information into these environments. Your work is appreciated and does a lot of help.

I thank you all!

-Submitted by Michael Santana
Upstate Correctional Facility, New York

Prisoner works through frustration with writing to send essay to the Prison Book Program

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Several months ago I contacted you and made a request for books. You were so kind in sending me a dictionary and almanac. You asked why books are so important to prisoners, why a dictionary is requested, and what we [prisoners] do with them.

I so much wanted to do as you ask, but it frustrates me to try. And I have tried, I'm just not good at essays. I can only hope to tell you in a few words [how I feel].


Books allow prisoners to set our minds free; to expand our minds, whereas our bodies are confined. Dictionaries are the most requested so that we can better understand the books we read and articulate better when we try to communicate with each other and the outside world. (By the way, I just used the little dictionary you sent me to look up and spell "articulate" and "communicate".)


What book has had the biggest impact on me while in prison? Dictionaries and almanacs because of the information and knowledge they contain. Also, picture books on travel -- both foreign and domestic -- so that I can set my eyes on something other than these walls and these other 900+ men.
Well, it's not really an essay, but it's the truth and hopefully helpful.

-Submitted by Mr. Gayle Hamilton
United States Penitentiary, Illinois

Prisoners use dictionaries to improve literacy

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The following post was transcribed exactly as it was received in order to show the importance and impact of books on prisoners, especially those who speak English as a second language and those with low literacy skills.

Why are book's so important to Prisoner: bein under lock & key Latinos and Black representan the mayoria in incarceratd. Your Prison Book Program help many inmate
with out a G.E.D (as myself) to an Educational as well as assistance in filling out ther necessary paperwork. And the Dictionary help inmate skills such as writin a cover letter and assessing my own skills without the help of other inmates. There are book which can help you do this like a dictionary helps finding a word. A well-written resume is so important in job hunting. Prisoners are developing spelling and writing skills and when reading can interpret the words being said.

-Submitted by an inmate who wishes to remain anonymous

Inmate looks forward to library days and starting new books

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Dear Prison Book Project,

Thank you very much for the books you sent me. It was really nice to come back to my unit this afternoon and find your package waiting for me at the officer's desk. I had a feeling today was going to be a great day!

Since I was going to write you a thank you anyway, I figure I could at least make a testimonial about why books are important to prisoners. Or why they are important to me:

I am currently on my 8th year of a 20 year sentence. Life becomes a lot different when you do time. On the outside, life is always so fast, and it's all about you. Your world revolves around your desires. After a few years in prison, many of us finally get our heads pulled out of our posteriors enough to look around and realize that it's not 'all about us'. Other people matter and not just for what they can do for you. And we begin to change.

For me, I looked back on my life and found that the people I respected the most had God in their life so I made a commitment to trust Him and make Him the center of my life.

How do books fit in with this change? Well, the more I changed, the more I saw that television glorified the kind of life I lived that got me in here. I came to hate television. Besides work, religious services, and friendly games with other inmates, I love to read. I can experience other lives I could have had if I made better or different choices, I can travel to the past or future, and I can learn about things I never had time for out there. Sure, nobody wants to go to prison, but if you're here, you might as well make the best of it.

The key to doing time is to be able to look forward to something. I look forward to library days. And starting new books. So, coming back from work today and getting your package of books kinda made me feel like I did as a kid on Christmas morning. You made me very happy.

Thank you!

Gratefully yours,
Jason Cox
McNeil Island Correction Center, Washington