To find out more about sharing books with prisoners, we caught up with author and former inmate John Espinosa Nelson. Nelson is raising funds on Kickstarter for his prison memoir, Where Excuses Go to Die. He reminded us why these books matter in prison:
I once knew a voracious reader who’d struggled with his wife over a gun; it had gone off and he’d been given life for her murder. He never spoke of mitigating circumstances or of his trial. The guy looked like Jack Lemon with a mustache and was just as nice. He possessed photo albums stuffed with happy family pictures, and few of us believed he’d killed his wife on purpose. But who can say? We did know that he read an epic novel every five-day week –Michener, Clavell, Clancy, Rand, King– plus smaller titles on the weekends. Reading was his passion and his one “tell” that betrayed his fear of inward thought. He was witty, short, and only about 40, but he was tragic and lonely too. He would have read every book in that facility’s library had it not been for the paperback donations that arrived each month. I think those saved him. I know they helped saved me. I clerked for two civilian employee prison librarians.
Nelson recommended these sites for GalleyCat readers interested in donating books to prisoners:
Chicago Books to Women in Prison
UC Books to Prisoners
Athens Books to Prisoners
The Prisoners Literature Project
Providence Books Through Bars Inc.
Women’s Prison Book Project
Read Between the Bars
Left Bank Books/Books to Prisoners
Prison Book Program