Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners returns with book sales: Culture: Smile Politely

This weekend, for the first time in over two years, Urbana Champaign Books to Prisoners will be hosting in-person book sales. Even better? They have three times more books to offer for sale than usual. The sale will take place on Saturday October 16 and Sunday October 17 at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. The center is located in downtown Urbana, next to the post office.

The Saturday sale will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the Sunday sale will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Sunday sale will include a bag sale from 4-5 p.m., as well as a 50/50 raffle. Books of various genres, including young adult and children’s books, will be available for purchase. With the books priced from just 50 cents to $2, proceeds from the sale go toward the organization’s mission.

The Urbana-based project has provided free books to people incarcerated in Illinois since 2004. The organization’s volunteers read letters and book requests from incarcerated people and select books from the extensive collection of books donated by the organization and then mail them. . This volunteer-based organization has sent more than 164,961 books to 22,889 incarcerated people since its founding. They are the largest such resource in the state of Illinois.

“We hope to improve people’s literacy and post-incarceration outcomes by supporting self-education,” says longtime UC Books for Prisoners volunteer Elizabeth Abraham. “We also strive to educate the public about incarceration issues and encourage support for the education of those in Illinois prisons.”

Abraham has volunteered for the program for 16 years and has professional training as a correctional librarian. She has seen with her own eyes the impact of the reading material on the lives of inmates.

Considering that 95% of inmates are eventually released back into society, as reported by the US Department of Justice, this program encourages them to improve their literacy skills and expand their knowledge before returning home to their families and their community.

On average, inmates read 17 to 31 books a year. The most requested books of the program? The English dictionary and GED teaching materials.

Studies show that correctional health care is essential to rehabilitation, and the self-education these books provide is a crucial part of that. These books can also provide some comfort in the segregation prison environment.

A note handwritten in black ink on a piece of lined notebook paper.  Photo by Julie McClure.Photo from the Books for Prisoners Facebook page.

Abraham says the program often receives letters indicating that it has helped incarcerated people become literate. Some write that UC Books for Prisoners is the only mail they get and that books from strangers give them hope.

“You are a gift from God for the prisoners,” writes an inmate from Danville. “So often, we are forgotten. Your book service aids in our rehabilitation, which prepares us to positively impact the communities that many of us have helped to destroy.

“Please send me books that help me know how to treat others, how to talk to people who are angry all the time, [and] how to become a better person,” another inmate wrote.

Abraham shares a particular situation that really stood out for her – helping a fellow corrections librarian acquire books related to palliative care.

“A group of incarcerated men wanted to know how they could provide palliative care to their fellow inmates,” she said. “They needed books to learn how to do it. I can’t imagine taking on such a task as a DIY project and looking for books to make it happen. It goes against the stereotype many of us have about prisons and prisoners. “

Since 2001, Illinois circulation libraries have had no money set aside to purchase new books, meaning incarcerated people must rely on family members to send them reading materials or use services provided by UC Books for Prisoners.

Those involved in planning this coming weekend’s book sales expect a strong turnout and have 140 community members stepping up to help the cause. Proceeds and donations to the organization help pay for mail postage, their rented space, the purchase of books that are requested but not yet donated, and to keep a part-time employee on staff. UC Books for Prisoners is always looking for volunteers to help with a variety of tasks, and no experience is required.

“The emotion that I most often feel from incarcerated people is loneliness,” says Abraham. “There is something special, dare I say sacred, about giving someone a book.”

Please keep in mind that UC Books For Prisoners only serves those currently incarcerated in Illinois state and federal prisons. To learn more or to donate to the organization, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Top photo of Books to Prisoners Facebook page.