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