The Political Importance of Literacy
By Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Books to Prisoners is a Seattle-based, all-volunteer non-profit organization founded in 1973 under the sponsorship of Left Bank Books. BTP ships books to prisoners – at their request. Prisoners send them 1,200 – 1,300 book requests per month. BTP believes that books are important tools for learning and self-improvement. Moreover, as Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire taught, literacy and reading opens peoples’ minds to new ideas and possibilities.
In the US, which spends vastly more on the prison industrial complex than schools, prison is the primary anti-poverty program. American prisons house nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners – more than 2.2 million. The vast majority are from disadvantaged communities and are either African American or Hispanic. Most have been incarcerated for victimless drug crimes. Prison rehabilitation is a myth, especially as prison privatization and state cutbacks have greatly curtailed prisoners’ access educational and training opportunities.
BTP prefers monetary donations. However they do welcome books from the following categories provided they are in paperback (most prisons prohibit hard back books) – and preferably accompanied with a $35-70 donation to cover the cost of shipping them to prisons.
- Antiquarian books (these can be sold to cover postage)
- Spanish books
- Legal self-help
- Books on chess
- Books on drawing
- Vocational education
- How-to Books
- GED preparation books
- African-American history
- True crime
- Paperback fiction: thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi, Westerns, fantasy, horror
Books (and donations) can be mailed to:
Books to Prisoners, c/o Left Bank Books, 92 Pike St. Box A, Seattle WA 98101
People can also donate via the BTP website: http://www.bookstoprisoners.net/donate/
The following video illustrates the profound effect this forty-year program has had on prisoners’ lives:
I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive – Malcolm X
photo credit: » Zitona « via photopin cc
Dr. Bramhall is a retired American child and adolescent psychiatrist, activist and political refugee in New Zealand.
Her first book The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led her to leave the US in 2002. She has also published two young adult novels about political activism: The Battle for Tomorrow: A Fable
She is involved in the national leadership of the New Zealand Green Party and has a political blog at StuartJeanneBramhall.com