Looking for a place to volunteer on a Saturday morning in Philly? Check out Books Through Bars. Here’s why:
The environment at Books Through Bars is warm and inviting with an air of importance - and rightly so. Every volunteer and coordinator in the small room are unwaveringly devoted to their cause. Upon your arrival you’ll be trained in their process- one created to make sure that their practices align with the demands of the correctional facilities they send books to. Once you’re settled in, you’ll be handed a letter from an inmate requesting reading material. The experience of handling and reading a piece of correspondence from an incarcerated person is plainly put, compelling. And regardless of where or why they’re being detained, the diversity of requests for reading material ranged from LGBTQIA books to Wiccan spiritual writings to HVAC repair manuals, and each communicates a deeply personal intent to learn, to improve, and to pass the time. Although we don’t all know the struggle or full story behind each letter, one thing is clear- gratitude radiates from each one. Books through Bars aims to alleviate some of the suffering of incarcerated people who have fallen victim to the social and economic structures that increase their likelihood of being arrested and convicted.
While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. As a country, we continue to incarcerate people in the name of “the war on drugs”, imposing long prison sentences through mandatory minimums for minor, non-violent offenses. However, half of state prisoners are non-violent offenders. This overflow of prisoners has overcrowded prisons, drained state and federal budgets, derailed lives of minor offenders and trapped poor communities of color in a inescapable cycle of poverty. Education is a way to prepare incarcerated people to return to the outside world, arming them with the knowledge and the skills necessary to have a life beyond bars. The mission of Books Through Bars for the last 30 years has been to provide resources to people who have felt the effects of social, economic and educational inequality and are behind bars because of it. Education, not mass incarceration, is the way to address the social circumstances that put people behind bars in the first place, and at Grant Blvd, we’re committed to being their allies in this fight in every way we possibly can.