Penn volunteers collect books for prison inmates

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 19, 2010

This Saturday, Kelly Writers House will be extending its passion for books beyond the Penn community.

With Books Through Bars, a local charitable organization, volunteers from the Kelly Writers House will be packing books into boxes, which will then be shipped to inmates.

Founded in the late 1980s, Books Through Bars seeks to provide individual inmates and prison libraries with quality books. The organization, located at 47th and Baltimore streets, believes that its free book distribution service will encourage self-education for inmates during their periods of incarceration, and thus help them progress towards successful reintegrations into the community.

Allyson Even, a freshman and outreach assistant for the Kelly Writers House, helped coordinate the volunteering event. "I believe prisons need not simply be places of punishment, but rehabilitation," Even said.

She pointed out that though many inmates use their time to learn and to further improve themselves, many prisons lack the necessary educational materials to meet the inmates' desires for self-development.

In order to alleviate this problem, the altruistic organization receives about 1,200 book requests per month from individual inmates and distributes not only to prisons in Pennsylvania but also to those in Virginia, New Jersey, New York and several other states. So far, Books Through Bars has delivered 8,000 book packages to individual inmates and 22 prison libraries.

Along with seven other volunteers, Even hopes that the event will create awareness of the plight of the incarcerated, who "are often forgotten and stigmatized."

Jillian Blazejewski, a junior and one of the volunteers, agrees with Even that even though "in terms of outreach, the prison population is a low priority, it is always in great need."

Blazejewski also highlights the strong link between people turning to crime when they are insufficiently educated, and states that prisons would be ineffective as rehabilitation centers if they did not do anything to improve the conditions of inmates.

To change this situation, Even believes that the efforts of every person taking even just a few hours packing books will count greatly. "Improving our society depends on those hours."