Tag Archive: books

Books kept me alive in prison

The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

Aug.29-30: Huge Book Sale! Benefit for Prison Books


USED BOOK SALE: August 29th-30th, the Prison Books Collective is hosting a two day book sale starting at 9am. We have hundreds and hundreds of great books that we can’t send into prisons, but that we can send home with you. Many left political titles, impossible to find underground zines and books, text books, history, literature, military manuals ,contemporary fiction, art and more. This sale is a benefit to raise funds for our enormous postage costs.

This giant book sale is a great way to get some wonderful books and support the work of the Prison Books Collective.

Book Sale!

August 29th-30th

Saturday 9am-2pm (Rain or Shine)

Sunday 9am-4pm (Rain or Shine)

621 Hillsborough Rd. in Carrboro

Map link: https://maps.google.com/maps

All Books Sliding Scale! You pick out the books and decide how much you want to pay for what you find! $1 minimum per book.

We can take debit and credit cards.

Review: Maya Schenwar’s ‘Locked Down, Locked Out’


By Ani M.

Truthout editor-in-chief, Maya Schenwar was kind enough to send the Prison Books Collective a copy of her new book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. The book is half journalism and half her memoir of the years her sister was alternately incarcerated and struggling with addiction. Since personal narrative is my favorite framework for gleaning new information, I claimed the book first with the promise to read quickly and beg her for more copies to send into prisons if it was any good.

At the Prison Books Collective we read a copious amount about prisons every week and very little makes it on to our social media and even less on to our website. As abolitionists, we find too many informative articles take a tone about just punishments that we reject. Or the reforms proposed in articles are ones that create new improved prisons instead of moving to abolish them. Much is written about the difficulties of transitioning people from incarceration to life on the outside; too little is written about the necessity of transforming life on the outside to eliminate incarceration.

Maya Schenwar’s Locked Down, Locked Out is a steady seduction. As she states early on, because she is white, from an intact nuclear family, well educated and prestigiously employed, people can hear the story of her sister and perceive it as a subject of inquiry, something to question: What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Schenwar is a likeable first person narrator with whom it’s easy for a similarly situated audience to identify as she searches for the answer to her own questions. How did her sister end up in prison more than once? Why did her family decide it was the safest places for her to be? What would be the real alternatives to that choice? (more…)

Saturday, 3/14: Benefit Book Sale! Over a Thousand Books

Bookshelf_KittyRain or Shine! We’re set up inside!

USED BOOK SALE: Saturday, March 14th, the Prison Books Collective is hosting a one day book sale starting at 9am. We have hundreds and hundreds of great books that we can’t send into prisons, but that we can send home with you. Many left political titles, text books, history, literature, military manuals ,contemporary fiction, and art. This sale is a benefit to raise funds for our enormous postage costs.

This giant book sale is a great way to get some wonderful books and support the work of the Prison Books Collective.

Book Sale!

Saturday, March 14th

9am- 1pm (Rain or Shine)

621 Hillsborough Rd. in Carrboro

Map link: https://maps.google.com/maps

All Books Sliding Scale! You pick out the books and decide how much you want to pay for what you find! $1 minimum per book.

We can take debit and credit cards.

Seven Ways to Support People in Prison

For many people behind bars books are a sanity-saver.

For many people behind bars books are a sanity-saver.

From Waging Non Violence/ By Victoria Law

I recently received a letter from a person asking how to get involved with supporting women in prison. The return address was from a small town that takes up 2.4 square miles and has approximately 14,000 residents. As far as the letter writer knew, there were no organizations — or even individual advocates — working around these issues nearby. The letter reminded me that not everyone is blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) enough to live in a city with opportunities to get involved in advocacy or direct support.

So what are some ways to support people behind bars if you’re not near any existing organizations or grassroots groups? Here are seven places to start: (more…)

How White Liberals Used Civil Rights to Create More Prisons

liberalprisonIn their quest to wipe out extra-legal racial violence, white liberals created a system that continues to kill black people—legally.

From The Nation

Neither liberals nor conservatives are chomping at the bit to discuss the historical roots of the modern gun-rights movement. If asked to describe it, liberals will gesture vaguely at the eighties and nineties, blaming survivalists, school shootings, “cold, dead hands” and the National Rifle Association. Conservatives, on the other hand, will jump the historical mark by some distance, talking about the founding fathers, the Second Amendment and the right to an armed militia. Neither side wants to admit that the first modern anti-carry law was passed by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967. Nor would they want to mention that Reagan passed the law to disarm the twentieth century’s greatest gun-rights militia: the Black Panther Party. Political genealogies in America are more mixed than the 24/7 news cycle will allow.

In her first book, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison in America, historian Naomi Murakawa demonstrates how the American prison state emerged not out of race-baiting states’-rights advocates nor tough-on-crime drug warriors but rather from federal legislation written by liberals working to guarantee racial equality under the law. The prison industry, and its associated police forces, spy agencies and kangaroo courts, is perhaps the most horrific piece of a fundamentally racist and unequal American civil society. More people are under correctional supervision in the United States than were in the Gulag archipelago at the height of the Great Terror; there are more black men in prison, jail or parole than were enslaved in 1850. How did this happen?

The common-sense answer is that launching the war on drugs during the backlash against civil-rights struggles encouraged agents of the criminal-justice system to lock up black people for minor infractions. This isn’t wrong, or not exactly. Ronald Reagan’s infamous Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which established federal minimums (a k a sentencing “guidelines”) and abolished parole in the federal prison systems, did lead to an explosion in the number of federal prisoners, particularly drug offenders. It was one of the pivotal moments in the production of the prison-industrial complex (PIC)—the overlapping sphere of government and industrial activity that employs hundreds of thousands of guards, cops, judges, lawyers, bail-bondsmen, administrators and service employees and which sees millions of prisoners performing barely paid production labor to generate profit. But, as Murakawa painstakingly demonstrates, the Sentencing Reform Act has a “liberal core,” and is built on the technical and administrative logic of racial fairness that structures all federal civil-rights legislation. (more…)

Imagine a World Without Prisons: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Prison Abolition

octaviaFrom The Abolitionist / By Walidah Imarisha

“And then the orcs stage an uprising and seize the means of production, since they are not only the soldiers, they are also the exploited labor of Middle Earth. If they rise up, Mordor grinds to a halt!”

This unlikely strategy came out of a workshop called “Imaginative Fiction and Social Change,” at the Allied Media Conference, an annual gathering in Detroit of radical activists, artists and media makers. The facilitator (and Octavia’s Brood contributor), Morrigan Phillips, broke participants into small groups and each one got a fictional land: Oz, the Death Star, Hogwarts, Springfield (of Simpsons fame). Participants then analyzed the conflict and came up with direct action tactics to move their cause for justice forward.

“A successful direct action is like creating a good fantasy story. It’s like a quest,” Phillips said excitedly in the introduction. “There is a conflict, compelling characters, a good plan, build up, twists and turns, adversity, the climax, and then the win where everyone goes home satisfied. If you do it right.”

As Phillips demonstrated, many of the lessons to be taken from science fiction (or speculative fiction/fantasy/horror/take your pick) are incredibly useful when building community-based systems of accountability and abolishing the prison system. (more…)

Friends of AK Press Prisoner Support Membership

akpressFrom AK Press

For many years, AK Press has offered incarcerated people large discounts on our published and distributed books. The response has always been great: We get dozens of catalog and book requests every month.

By purchasing a Friends of AK membership for a prisoner, you are helping bring radical literature to some of society’s most oppressed individuals. They appreciate it and so do we.

We offer a discounted subscription ($15/month) for people in prison. That means we automatically charge your card for $15 once a month…and the recipient will get every book we published that month, until you tell us to stop.

If you have a particular prisoner to whom you would like us to send books, please list their name and address as the shipping address when you place your order. Important: You must be sure to get their permission first and make sure that the place they are incarcerated will accept books. If you don’t have a particular person in mind, we will assign your subscription to the next person on our waiting list. (more…)


swimming-to-freedomFrom Vice News

Over the course of his 50-year career, Donald E. Westlake wrote more than 100 books, the vast majority of them crime fiction—most often seen from the point of view of the criminals. In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America gave him their highest honor, naming him Grand Master, largely on the strength of his two classic series: one featuring hard-boiled burglar Parker (played on screen by Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson, and Jason Statham, among others), the other portraying hapless heister John Dortmunder (who lucked out and got Robert Redford—go figure).

Along the way, Westlake wrote a fair amount of nonfiction, usually relating in some way to the crime genre. In October, the University of Chicago Press will publish a selection of that nonfiction in The Getaway Car: A Donald E. Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. The piece below, an essay originally published in 1961 in the third issue of Ed McBain’s Mystery Book, is a selected history of the hows and whys of great prison breaks. As a writer, Westlake always enjoyed putting his characters into agonizingly difficult situations and seeing how they get out; that enthusiasm for an impossible puzzle animates this essay.  (more…)