Books To Prisoners (BTP) is a Seattle-based, all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that sends books to prisoners in the United States. BTP believes that books are tools for learning and opening minds to new ideas and possibilities. By sending books to prisoners, BTP hopes to foster a love of reading and encourage the pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement.
Founded in the early 1970s and sponsored by Left Bank Books, BTP receives 1,200 to 1,300 requests for books each month. Volunteers work two evenings a week opening letters, finding books in the BTP collection that correspond to the request, and wrapping and mailing parcels. Because of continuing backlog of requests, prisoners sometimes wait up to six months to receive their books.
Prisoners request a variety of books. Most prisons accept paperback books only. The most popular requests are dictionaries, thesauruses, African American history and fiction, Native American studies, legal material, GED materials, and languages (particularly Spanish.) Other common requests include fiction, vocational-technical manuals, politics, anthropology, art and drawing, psychology, and health and fitness.
BTP has three associate organizations – Portland Books To Prisoners, Books To Prisoners Olympia, and Bellingham Books To Prisoners. These sister groups assist in answering letters, mailing packages, and soliciting book donations.
As one of the largest prison book projects in the country, BTP works in conjunction with other agencies that support prisoner literacy and promote social justice.
Last year, Seattle BTP, along with chapters in Portland, Olympia, and Bellingham answered a combined 14,900 letters. Bellingham BTP sent out over 10,000 books.
We are pleased to donate copies of Inquire Within – A Guide to Living in Spirit to Bellingham BTP. A young friend once asked why we donate our books to prisoners. We answered that many prisoners will one day be released from prison and it would be nice to know that they had been working to improve themselves. We know that we have helped at least one person. Jim has had regular written correspondence from a man who received a copy of Inquire Within while he was in prison. He appreciated our book’s gentle guidance and resource section listing many other spiritual and self-help books. He has since been released from prison and is doing very well with his family and in his community.
If you are in the Seattle, Portland, Olympia, or Bellingham areas, and would like to donate new or used books, particularly paperbacks, BTP would be happy to accept your donations. You can also choose to volunteer your time wrapping packages or make a cash donation to cover postage. Learn more here: Books to Prisoners.
Letter from a prisoner to BTP:
I became aware of your organization and its vital work recently when a fellow prisoner let me use his big, beautiful dictionary. When I complimented him on having such an obviously fine, advanced book, he told me about his own quest in which you sent him his Random House/Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary more than a year ago. It is his most prized possession here where such a wonderful reference work is rare, indeed. I am a reformed black man earning his GED and trying to improve himself, his life, and his prospects after prison. If you will consider sending me a dictionary, I will use it often and well. And with your blessings, I will tell other inmates about your company and its compassionate work. Thank you very much.
Thank you Jim for drawing attention to a very worthwhile cause. I’ll take a look on my bookshelf now, and throw in a copy or two of my own book. If you’re ever free on a Tuesday evening, we’d love to see you at Toastmasters.