Collective writes to political prisoners

16368_0214_letterwriting_cogburnoFrom The Daily Tar Heel

By Julia Craven

Chapel Hill’s Prison Books Collective is comforting political prisoners one birthday card at a time.

Wednesday night marked the third anniversary of the collective’s letter-writing events, which are held monthly at Internationalist Books and Community Center.

The group meets to write birthday cards to political prisoners.

Fredrick Perlman, a volunteer with the collective, said the group writes to political and politicized prisoners in the United States.

The group categorizes political prisoners as people arrested and jailed for activism, or those who were framed for crimes they did not commit.

This month, the group wrote letters to three members of the Black Panther Party and an indigenous rights activist.

Perlman said about 15 writers attend the event each month, but numbers have ranged from seven to 30.

Prisoners can face many barriers to receiving mail while incarcerated — the main one being prison censorship, Perlman said.

He said he thinks the FBI reads the mail of many of the prisoners the group writes to.

The program helps spread awareness of political imprisonments.

“Since getting involved with the program, I’ve learned there are people who are imprisoned for their political beliefs,” said Ziggy Carpenter, another letter writer.

Member Mike Coleman said he started writing to prisoners to show them they have outside support. He said receiving letters can improve prisoners’ quality of life.

The group often receives responses from the prisoners.

“I have a giant box filled with mail,” Perlman said.

The group is also concerned with the repression of activist groups.

“I want to live in a world that is less polluted, less racist, and less sexist,” Perlman said.

He also said the people who are fighting against these things are being targeted by the U.S. government and large corporations.

The collective is funded by community donations. The group also holds periodic fundraisers and does not receive any grants.

“Rich people don’t want to help poor people, especially not prisoners,” Perlman said. “We enjoy a lot of community support.”

In addition to the letter-writing nights, the collective sends books to prisoners across the Southeast. The group asks prisoners to request specific titles.

Dictionaries are the top requests of prisoners, along with black nonfiction and legal help books, Perlman said.

Meetings are held every Sunday to pack books to send out to prisoners. The group sends about 300 packages per week with an average of three books per package.

The group also participates in anti-prison protests and blogging in order to rally support for political prisoners.