Tag Archives: Women’s Prison Book Project

Women in Prison – Visiting author imagines options, honors work of local volunteers

“Imagining a world beyond incarceration” is the theme of Maya Schenwar’s new book, a critique on the nation’s prisons entitled Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better.   Schenwar will read from her book and help readers imagine a world beyond incarceration on Saturday, November 22. The reading and discussion, set for 3:00 p.m. at Boneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Avenue South in Minneapolis, is free and open. Schenwar’s reading is sponsored by the Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP) which is housed at Boneshaker.

Schenwar is Editor-in-Chief of Truthout (http://truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/45138 where she has written extensively on the criminal justice system, juvenile justice, independent media, campaign politics, and immigration reform. She also served as publicity coordinator for Voices of Creative Nonviolence and serves on the Board of Advisors for Waging Nonviolence.

For the past decade volunteers with WPBP have changed the lives of hundreds of incarcerated women. Volunteers gather at Boneshaker Books every Sunday, Noon-3:00, to process as many as possible of the 600 requests they receive every month. They match books with women’s requests, process, wrap and mail hundreds of donated books to women for whom reading is their sole window on the world.

Bibliophiles who want to share the joy and power of a good read donate a wide range of titles ranging from reference resources to self-improvement to romance and books on health and child development.

WPBP volunteers point to some alarming statistics; for example, “of the more than two million people confined in U.S. prisons and jails, over 150,000 are women. Eighty percent of these women are imprisoned for non-violent crimes such as shoplifting, prostitution, drug-related offenses or fraud. Of the women incarcerated for violent crimes, the vast majority were convicted for defending themselves of their children from abuse. More than half of the women in prison have at least one child under age eighteen; most of these mothers had primary custody of their children before going to prison.

Predictably, books, information and libraries are not high on the list of protected necessities when budgets are slashed.   Of special need are reading and reference materials for trans, queer and gender-variant prisons who sponsors observe “are targeted by the police and prosecution and incarcerated at disproportionate rates.”

Leaders of WPBP neither mince words nor back away from political intent and action: “We recognize that flaws and inequities throughout the ‘justice’ system act to control and suppress the lives/movements of the poor, women, and all people of color. The US. has the highest incarceration rate in the world….As activists on the outside, WPBP provides vital support to women political prisoners and prisoners of war in U.S. prisons and jails.”

If you haven’t visited the WPBP or Boneshaker’s Books, take a virtual tour by clicking on the “photo gallery” on the WPBP website (http://www.wpbp.org) – or follow WPBP on Facebook or Twitter.

WPBP is always in need of financial, moral and volunteer support – contact the volunteers at womensprisonbookproject@gmail.com.



Women’s Prison Book Project sponsors tours, book sale and ice cream social!

The Women’s Prison Book Project continues to expand and enhance their volunteer efforts to meet the reading and information needs of women in prison.  In addition to their ongoing efforts, they are planning two big events for their friends and supporters.

On Saturday, July 8, the Fly Away Zine Mobile, the Women’s Prison Book Project and Boneshaker Books are hosting an Ice Cream Social with a chance to learn about the Zine Library, visit the Mobile Open House and share experience and knowledge of the project

It’s Saturday, July 28, 2:00-4:00 p.m. at ABoneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Avenue South in Minneapolis.

The following weekend, Saturday and Sunday, August 4 and, they are sponsoring a repeat of their annual book sale.  From 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. shoppers will find books of every genre at a new book sale location, the driveway of the blue house on the corner of 15th Avenue and 35th Street.

Same books!  Same deal!  Hardcovers are $3 and paperbacks are $2.

Women’s Prison Book Project Hosts Domestic Abuse Documentary

Crime After Crime is a powerful documentary film that tells the dramatic legal battle to free Debbie Paegler, a domestic abuse victim imprisoned for over a quarter century because of her connection to the murder of the man who abused her.

Paegler’s  strength of spirit served her well during 26 years in prison where she suffered injustice and abuse.  Inspiring woman that she is she led the prison gospel choir and taught other inmates to read and write.

Her fate took a dramatic turn  when two rookie attorneys with no background in criminal law offered to take her case.    Inspired by Paegler’s indomitable strength, the attorneys brought to light witnesses, new testimony from the men who committed the murder, and proof of perjured evidence.  Their investigation attracted global attention to victims of wrongful incarceration and abuse.  The cause of Debbie Paegler took on profound urgency when the case becomes a matter of life and death.

Filmmaker Yoav Potash filmed the documentary in and out of prison for over five years.  The resulting documentary tells an unforgettable story of a relentless quest for justice.  Crime After Crime has received national acclaim ranging from the Sundance Film Festival award to appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Locally, the Womens Prison Book Project, in cooperation with Hamline University, will offer a free screening and discussion of the film on Thursday, May 31, 7:00 p.m. at Hamline University, 1536 Hewitt Avenue in St. Paul.  The screening and discussion will be in the Giddens Learning Center, Room 100E.   Free and open to the pubic.

Supporters Turn Out for WPBP Fundraiser

250 famished supporters ready to share a hearty breakfast with a community of friends, one and new.  Walker, bikers and drivers dodged the Cities’ famed potholes to gather for a gustatory treat served by a squadron of volunteers on hand to support the work of the Women’s Prison Book Project.

The community room at Walker church was a beehive of activity and good will.   Fundraiser attendees breakfasting on stacks of light and flaky pancakes, pitchers of syrup, and grits, complete with hot sauce and grated cheese.  Kids industriously worked on original Valentines to be shared with political prisons.  Meanwhile, bibliophiles pored over mountains of pre-read books, good reads all but hardcover books not allowed in correctional facilities (don’t ask…)

Donations for the fundraiser came not only from breakfasters but from area organizations and business including CO-OP Partners, Peace Coffee, Anodyne Café, Trader Joe’s, and Equal Exchange.  Walker Church has donated the space since the beginning of the annual fundraiser.

WPBP planners report that Saturday’s fundraiser brought in about $2300, enough money to support approximately 1 ½ months of MPBP mailings – funds pay for postage and packaging.

The labor involved in organizing contributed books, matching books and incarcerated readers, then packaging and mailing a constant flow of requested titles,  falls to a cadre of committed volunteers who meet, wrap and mail every Sunday.

One of the outcomes of Saturday’s fundraiser is a treasured list of some 30 attendees who offered to lend a hand.  Good thing, too, because since Saturday a local church has contributed what a “huge donation of books” which volunteer Beth Derenne celebrates as “overwhelming but exciting!”

The Women’s Prison Book Project is located at Boneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Avenue South, just off Franklin in the Seward neighborhood.

Local organization provides books for women in prison

I needed to write to express my gratitude towards ya’ll at the WPBP.  The empowerment the women here at the ….in the past six months has been noticed.  All of the ladies I happen upon who have a glow mention ya’ll.  I hear,”It’s the book I’m reading”, I was changed by a book…I’m sharing it with my family.”   It makes a difference.

The note from a woman inmate to the Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP) is more typical than unique.

Making a difference is the reason a cadre of volunteers gathers every Sunday to pack and mail mountains of donated books to women inmates throughout the nation.   Each week they pack up approximately 100 books, to be shipped at a cost of just over $1 each.

Anyone who has ever tried to share a book with an inmate – or who has been an inmate – knows that it takes an organization such as WPBP to get through the physical and political barriers of censorship, indifference, bureaucracy or outright resistance to the free flow of information and ideas through the bars.

Since 1994 WPBP operated out of the Arise! bookstore.  More than one TCDP reader has dropped off boxes of books at the Arise! shop on South Lyndale.  Even after Arise! closed its doors WPBP continued to collect donations, pack and send the books to eager readers, so the project maintained on good will and less than a shoestring.

Today, WPBP is celebrating new life!  Everything changed when Boneshaker Books, a collective of former Arise! volunteers, opened its new site on 23rd Avenue South just off Franklin in the Seward neighborhood.  WPBP was able to pack up and move in with Boneshaker.  So today both are operating in bright and open space with high visibility and high hopes of engaging a broader public in the work that continues.

Members of the informal WPBP collective are still sorting and shelving, even as they promote their annual fundraiser which they hope will break all participation records.  Funds from the event are the sole support for the project where virtually all of the funds go for postage and supplies.

The potential readership of incarcerated women and transgender customersis immense.  Of the more than two million people confined in US prisons and jails, over 150,000 are women.  Eighty percent of these women are convicted of nonviolent crimes, e.g. shoplifting, prostitution, fraud or drugs.  The vast majority of women convicted of violent crimes were defending themselves or their children. Among the women/transgender inmates it is surprising to note the inclusion of political prisoners.  As one prisoner writes “There are very few people in this country who dare to acknowledge there are political prisoners in US prisons.

WPBP focuses on state and federal prisons where inmates are incarcerated for longer terms – they are too overwhelmed to keep up with short-term inmates in county and city facilities.  The project gives priority to Minnesota facilities women at the US Federal Correctional Institute in Waseca are their best in-state customers.  Concerned about the health of their customers, WPBP takes special care to address the reading and information needs of women in medical facilities.

Members of the WPBP collective are clear about their needs:

Books! New or used paperback books only – no hardcover or spiral-bound books because most prisons do not allow them.  WPBP attempts to interpret then meet the individual reader’s needs. The most requested topics include drug and alcohol recovery issues, English and Spanish language dictionaries, fiction and non-fiction by people of color, queer fiction and non-fiction, abuse issues, health, arts and crafts and mystery/horror novels.

Time! Help with the Sunday pack and mail sessions.  Other volunteer opportunities include selling book donations that cannot be used by WPBP, soliciting donations and publishers and organizations, opening letters from women in prison, translating letters, and otherwise keeping the wheels in motion and the facility in order

Financial support! The big opportunity is the annual Pancake Breakfast (actually pancakes plus fruit, grits, coffee and more) Saturday, February 12, 8-Noon, Walker Community Church, 3104 16th Avenue South, Minneapolis.  $6 adults, $3 for kids.  This year’s event also includes a book sale – $2 paperbacks and $3 hard covers.  Plus a chance to meet, share, and learn about the new site and plans for WPBP.

Stone wwalls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.  Robert Lovelace