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To educate and empower incarcerated people across the United States through the dissemination of free reading material.
For over 44 years Books To Prisoners (based in Seattle, with support groups in Olympia and Bellingham, WA and Portland, OR) has been responding to individual requests from prisoners around the U.S. for reading material. We send educational, empowering, entertaining, and thought-provoking literature free to 900-1200 prisoners per month. BTP was all-volunteer for 40 years and now has only one part-time staffer, and receives most of its funds from individual donors and local fundraising events. BTP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Do you like books? Do you love to send and receive mail? Do you care about prison justice, and the crisis of mass incarceration in our country? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, Books to Prisoners (BTP) is an ideal place to volunteer. They are always looking for lots of people to help out. One of their lovely staff-people or shift-leads will show you the ropes of how to choose and mail books to incarcerated folks. It's so easy to learn, but never gets boring...you can spend a lifetime getting great at choosing just the right book! I have volunteered here off and on for a couple of years now. I love it, and I constantly encourage friends to do the same.
I can highly recommend BtP as a volunteer experience. Whether you are a person who is animated by social justice or by a desire to help others, why not choose an organization that helps the most disadvantaged people in our society?
I was very moved by a number of the letters I received from several prisoners, which exposed me to some of the draconian conditions to which they are subjected. Each book I sent felt like I was making a direct impact on a person in need.
Books to Prisoners is a lean operation with a wonderful group of dedicated volunteers, and it's a lot of fun! Every week, I found myself looking forward to going, which was easy because the hours there are so flexible. Filling the requests is fun and I liked the Zen simplicity of packaging them as well. If I was still in Seattle, I'd probably be there now!
Books to Prisoners is a fantastic place to volunteer! The surroundings are delightfully quirky - a utilitarian room in a church basement lined floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves and mail crates - and the work really fills an important need for people who are all but forgotten to society to receive knowledge, entertainment, education, and inspiration through the power of books.
Because the volunteers read letters from individuals and choose which free books they will be receiving from the library, the work really has a direct impact on the prisoners' quality of life. You don't often get to have such an immediate impact as a volunteer at many other organizations.
BTP does not pressure volunteers to meet any kind of hourly quota, so it's a very relaxed atmosphere. I like the puzzle-solving aspect the most - such as when you get a very specific request and you are challenged to find the best match for the prisoner from the library shelves. It's a bit like playing Santa Claus...