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The Prison Book Program is celebrating its 50th year in 2022! Located in Quincy, Massachusetts, the Prison Book Program is a nationwide resource for incarcerated people throughout the United States. I’ve previously written about the importance of a mindset of rehabilitation over punishment for incarcerated people. What I love about the Prison Book Program is its emphasis on the humanity of incarcerated people and their right to read, educate, and transform themselves through the power of books. 

We believe that everyone has a right to read, and that books are tremendous sources of enlightenment, enjoyment, and transformation. We also strive to lessen the dehumanization and isolation of incarceration by providing our readers with a connection to a community of caring people. (Prison Book Program, “Our Mission”)

We are definitely a book-loving family! After 14 years abroad in international education, we moved back home with over 60 boxes of books. (Let’s not talk about the shipping costs.) Although we did give some books away, with all the other logistics of an international move, we didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions about what to do with all our books, so they all went into the shipment. Then we arrived back in the US to open our (miraculously preserved) U-Haul storage container, and found about 20 more boxes of books! We have a beautiful but small house, and displaying all these books was not going to happen. And while I’m okay saving some special “memory” books, I don’t like the idea of keeping books tucked away in boxes in the basement. Books are meant to be read, shared, and given away. I was so glad to find the Prison Book Program, where many of our books could be donated to a good cause!


The Prison Book Program takes almost all types of books, but check the restrictions and guidelines before donating! For example, prisons generally do not allow hardcover books. I was lucky that I was able to drive to Quincy with six massively heavy boxes of books taking up the entire trunk of the car (our first round of culling—I’m sure I’ll have more to donate soon), but for those who are not local, the Prison Book Program has an Amazon wish list as well as wish lists with local bookstores Wellesley Books and Porter Square Books. (You can also mail them your books, via media mail to save some money, or look for local “books to prisoners” groups near you.) 



Once I arrived, one of the volunteers helped me load up my boxes on a trolley to get them into the basement of the beautiful United First Parish Church, a historic church attended by Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and their families. Inside, I was amazed and impressed by the number of volunteers who were busy sorting through donations, reading letters from incarcerated people, and matching requests with books. Part of the Prison Book Program’s mission statement is to “provide a highly engaging volunteer experience that connects people inside and outside of the American prison system.” The program welcomes individuals and groups, as well as book specialists, to volunteer!

The most touching part of my visit to the Prison Book Program were the letters and artwork on display from incarcerated people who were thanking the program and volunteers for the received books. Some quotes from the letters included:

  • “I am so blessed and thankful for everything this program has done for me and others here. … Knowledge is power! Thank you!”
  • “The [books] are definitely helpful and instrumental in enrolling into a graduate school, and spiritually evolving to the best version of myself and to serve our collective humanity. … I don’t know who you are or what you look like, but I definitely felt your humanity and the kindness of your heart by making all these things possible.”
  • “I just wanted to write to tell you all how much I’ve enjoyed the last two books that you sent and to thank you for doing what you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” 
  • “I had no idea I would be hearing from you so soon! And with such awesome books! I am not writing to request any, of course, but instead to convey my earnest and profound gratitude for your wonderful gift.” 


And the artwork was gorgeous! There were so many beautiful pieces on display. Here are two of my favorites:
“When you know better, you do better” and “The spirit goes where the mind roams.”



You can check out these pages to donate and volunteer for the Prison Book Program, as well as these additional resources (the National Prisoner Resource List and the We the People Legal Primer) if you want to print them out and send them to incarcerated people and their families. 

Thank you, Prison Book Program, for making this world a better place!


PS: I felt completely fulfilled through my visit to the Prison Book Program, but I got two unexpected bonus treats. First, the volunteer giving me a tour of the program showed me the tombs of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, along with their wives (yes, the fabulous Abigail Adams!), beneath the ground of the United First Parish Church. It was meaningful to see a bit of US history and pay my respects!



And then, as if the day wasn’t perfect enough, I stopped at the original Dunkin’ Donuts, located at 543 Southern Artery in Quincy, for a coffee and a snack (savory bagel minis won out over my traditional favorite, the old-fashioned donut). What a day!