A. Resource Information
When you get requests for services or expertise which falls outside your mission, it’s good to have a resource list of names addresses and groups on hand. (See Appendix II for an example of ours.) Like a list of mail restrictions this list can be periodically updated as you discover new information. The Prison Books Collective includes a resource guide in every package.
B. Contacts with Other Groups
The strength of any organized effort towards transforming society lies in its success at branching out and networking with other individuals and groups until enough power is built to confront society.
Your contacts and connections are a vital part of your operation. Whether they provide active support, or merely serve as a referral point, they can all be apprised of your upcoming speaking events, book sales or pack-a-thons. Likewise your group can keep itself informed and aware of the work of allied organizations. Seek out other groups working to abolish the prison system and/or reform it. Be honest with whom you forms coalitions, and make sure not to let well intentioned reformists steer you from your actual purpose.
C. Correspondence with Selected Prisoners
Sending books into prisons is the main part of your operation but it is not the only part. You can not only educate and enlighten but also learn from people who are incarcerated. Maintaining ongoing correspondence with some prisoners is part of the work of abolishing prisons which is a prison book program’s mission. Prison book programs should maintain contact with leaders of prisoner study groups. They can ensure that the books you send are well shared, and provide feedback on what books best meet their needs.
Depending on what your interests are and where you are located, you may want to focus on certain areas of specialization instead of accepting any type of request from any prisoner anywhere in the country. We encourage limiting your service area to one or two states. This helps you keep on top of your back log and respond to conditions and situations in prisons and jails locally. Also if you aren’t sure of your time, money and personnel resources narrowing down the work is advisable. You can always expand later.
E. Record keeping
You want at least one person in your group to function as the book keeper and keep track of income and expenditures.
Most grant foundations expect some sort of report back on what you did with the money they gave you. It’s a good idea to keep track of the number of requests you receive from prisoners each month. In addition, you should keep a record of the number of packages you are able to send to prisoners. You can use these figures in fundraisers. You will also want to keep track of the number of packages returned to you every month. It’s important to make a record of packages that were returned for reasons other than transfer or release. This information will be critical if you attempt to challenge prison rules or mailroom actions. The other records (numbers of letters and packages) can be as detailed or as simple as time permits. We also keep a record of each prisoner that writes us in a card catalog system. The cards are in alphabetical in order by last name, and include their prisoner number, the last time we sent a package and what we sent them. This helps us not send duplicates of books or zines we have piles of or track if someone is writing to us too often.