We understand that many people would like to become involved in helping prisoners. The reasons vary, and the abilities are diverse.
We recommend that the first step not be taken unless you are really serious. The dedication required is not for the faint-hearted.
We began Prison Book Project with the goal of delivering 1,000 books into the local county jail. That was before we understood the need; that goal was discarded when we came to understand the need.
Your local community has the hidden resources to satisfy the local requirements. You don’t have to get as carried away as we did, but you do have to be willing to devote time and resources to getting the job done. We will try to show you how.
- Getting started—A fair knowledge of books is necessary. We are trying to change lives for the better, not accidentally plant destructive seeds. We need to know the kinds of ideas that are contained in the material that we feed to these impressionable minds. It is important, however, that we do not reject any material without knowledge of what they contain. An example is “clean westerns.” In westerns, there is a certain amount of violence that some (including me, before God explained the big picture to me) would automatically reject. Applying the “big picture” concept puts a different light on the subject. In a clean western, the good guy gets the pretty girl, the fastest horse and a really nice ranch. The bad guy gets gut shot or hung. This is a moral lesson that is portrayed in a manner which can be easily understood. In the Bible these kinds of lessons are called parables. If Jesus used fiction to teach a moral principle, we can too.
- Contact your local jail officials and explain what you propose to do. Your mission is not to make all the jail inmates Baptist or some other denomination, it is to supply the jail officials with “constructive”, instead of “destructive“, reading material. The inmates are the wards of the jail officials; it is their responsibility to provide for the people in their charge. We suggest that you try to provide 50% Christian material and 50% non-religious, constructive material. Keeping minds busy lessens the behavioral problems inherent in people who have been incarcerated.
- Only one group should be formed for each community. Working with your local confinement officials will help to coordinate the various volunteer groups. There is enough work to go around.
- Donations—Local churches are your best source for donated books. Church members have both kinds of books that you will need. Many of these books have been sitting on shelves collecting dust for years. You will find that some Christians read some strange stuff. Don’t be surprised, be thankful; you can use that “strange” material (if it isn’t too bad) for trading material at thrift shops. Use the sample bulletin insert to write your own insert to provide the churches with a list of the kinds of material you need. (An extra benefit of this program is that we can rid the world of some of the trash that shows up in the collection boxes.)
- Collection boxes should about 12” x 12” x 15”. They should be covered with wallpaper that is not too loud or too soft. You want to draw attention, but not distract from the décor of the church lobby. You should empty these boxes at least every two weeks. Some churches may prefer to conduct a book drive every so often, like once a year. One of our local churches here collected 35 boxes of books the first year.
- Thrift shops—You will find that many books which are not appropriate will be donated. Unless they are really bad, they can be traded to thrift shops for more appropriate material. The really bad stuff should be disposed of in such a manner that they will never be seen again. An example of tradable material is most murder mysteries. In these books, the private eye solves the crime while the police stand around looking dumb. That is not a good lesson to feed into a jail, but you could trade them unless sex is an issue.
- Security—This subject is always important to confinement officials. The devices that have been used to get contraband into jails and prisons would fill several books, and is a serious problem. Jail officials could tell you hundreds of stories about discoveries they have made. Security is their specialty, trust them. Here’s just one example: Cocaine is dissolved in water; the corner of a page in a book is dipped into the solution and allowed to dry. You would have to have a sharp eye to detect this abnormality.
- Marking—The books should be marked in such a way as to tell the officials that you have removed all names, addresses and telephone numbers from the book. If a local phone number is left in a book, you can believe that some inmate will call the number. If you desire to receive feedback from the prisoners to evaluate how much good you’re doing, rent a post office box and stamp the books with your ministry address. We do not recommend using a personal address. Do not expect a great deal of feedback.
- Lessons—We have been doing this for nearly 12 years and we must admit that we’re still learning. You will have to learn also. If we can help, let us know. Email is the best way to communicate with us. We want you to succeed and we will help all we can.