Organized by the Red Book Store Collective in Cambridge, MA in 1972, Prison Book Program (PBP) was initially committed to distributing politically progressive literature. The founding members understood that reading was crucial for prisoners who often had substandard educations and scant access to books through prison libraries. These members also realized the importance of the connection forged between people living on both sides of prison walls, and they pursued that connection with vigor.
As word of mouth made men and women across the country aware of PBP, requests increased for a broader range of materials. Self-help groups of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, lesbians, gay men and others began to rely on PBP for specialized materials that they could study and then pass on to others behind the walls.
Since 1988, PBP has compiled, published, and distributed the National Prisoner Resource List (NPRL) — a list of resources for prisoners around the country. The NPRL provides prisoners with information about places they and their families can turn for support, advocacy, health care information, and outlets for their creativity.
Prison Book Program also received requests from prisoners in desperate need of legal materials to prepare appeals and file legal complaints. Today, PBP distributes a “Legal Primer” – a compilation of essential legal information compiled by a former prisoner and PBP customer. Additional requests from prisoners helping each other prepare for the General Educational Development (GED) exam — along with increasingly varied requests — compelled PBP to expand its mission to include the mailing of other types of books to prisoners.
During the 1990’s, the influence of PBP expanded. In the middle and late nineties, two new books-to-prisoners projects were started by former PBP volunteers – the Women’s Prison Book Project in Minneapolis, started in 1994, and the Prison Book Program in North Carolina, which was started in 1999.
Over the years, PBP has been housed in several locations. The Red Book Store and PBP moved from Cambridge, MA to a rent free space in the Jamaica Plain basement of the Red Sun Press in 1982 – the home of PBP for the next 18 years. In 2001, PBP left Jamaica Plain and moved to Arlington Street until the 2004 move to the basement of the United First Parish Church in Quincy Center. While the church whole-heartedly supports our mission, we continue to be an independent, secular organization.
In 2002, PBP celebrated its 30th year of sending free books to prisoners and saw the creation its first logo. Selected from entries by prisoners who entered PBP’s logo contest, the winning logo – accompanied by the slogan, “Books Can Open Doors” – was co-created by Steve Hubble and Ray Champagne. A redesign of the logo now serves as the official logo of PBP.
Since 2002, Prison Book Program has seen significant growth in the number of prisoners served. PBP continued to send out record numbers of books to prisoners in 2003, averaging 500 prisoners served per month.
PBP partnered with the City Mission Society of Boston and Better World Books in 2007 to hold its first annual community book drive, utilizing smaller drives to culminate in a larger drive. To date, the four annual book drives have garnered a total of more than 68,000 books.