We, the Prison Books Collective of Chapel Hill, write to you in a time of crisis.
After more than six years of workdays, meetings, planning, and package-filling at our North Graham Street location, the Collective is losing that space. The landlord that owns the property has decided to kick out the current tenants and drastically raise the rent. By joining a long line of property owners’ gentrification of the Northside neighborhood, his profit-seeking is not just hurting one group of tenants, but entire communities on the other side of the prison walls.
Now in its 7th year, the Collective has sent tens of thousands of books, pamphlets, and resource guides into prisons throughout the South. We’ve published prisoners’ news, essays, fiction, and poetry; and spread word of their struggles and strategies to hundreds of different facilities in an effort to break down the isolation and indignity of prison. We’ve helped prisoners learn to read in a country where the education system has utterly failed them. We’ve sent legal materials to prisoners in prisons whose law libraries have been completely dismantled. We’ve helped prisoners form study groups that encouraged gang truce efforts and became the backbone of organizing efforts on the inside. We’ve organized demonstrations and solidarity efforts for prisoners punished for their own organizing. We’ve encouraged political prisoner letter-writing across the country. In a society that increasingly treats prisoners as mere objects: thrown away and forgotten, we’ve organized teach-ins and outreach on the outside to remind people about what happens on the inside.
All of the Collective’s work has been managed with few resources and no paid staff. We have depended only on the elbow grease of volunteers and the generous donations of a supportive network of friends and comrades. However, this project has always been made possible by our free garage space on N. Graham Street. Without it, our limited resources would have never permitted us to house a library that is perpetually depleted and renewed and the workspace we need to get reading materials and information to the inside.
This is where the Collective stands: we have until July to find a new space in which to continue our organization’s work. This obstacle will not stop our efforts to support prisoners, but we will need your help to continue.
If you believe in the work that the Collective does, but haven’t been able to participate, this is your time! We are desperately searching for a roughly 4-500 square foot space in which to house our library and workspace. We are also desperately soliciting monetary donations to help us in the transition and to pay any potential rents or deposits at a new location. You can go to our website at prisonbooks.info to make a one-time donation or become a monthly sustainer.
So if you have a garage that you’re not really using, or that you could share; if you have a piece of land large enough to build a structure on; if you work at a nonprofit or commercial building with more space than you can use; please get in touch with us. A space that was already heated and cooled would be ideal, but we are both thrifty and flexible: we installed insulation, gutters, and air conditioning in our current garage, and we could do it again if we had to.
If you don’t have a space or money to spare, then please help us spread the word. Pass this request for support on to every activist group, friends group, facebook group, and listserv you know of. You can also show up to workdays every Sunday to help us get ahead of the backlog of prisoners’ book and ‘zine requests that will likely result from this transition.
Along with this plea for help, we also want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who helped the collective make it this far. There is no way we could do this work without you. Every prisoners’ letter we receive that thanks us for the books or tells of struggle on the inside, is a testament to your generosity and support.
Until Every Cage is Empty,
The Internationalist Prison Books Collective of Chapel Hill