FAQ's About the Prison Book Program

Prison Book Program sends books to people in prison at their (or their family’s / friend’s) request. They can request any kind of books (with a few limitations such as true crime, hate literature, etc) and we do our best to find those in our collection of donated books.

No.  Our only location is in Quincy, MA. There are dozens of other programs like ours around the US, Canada and the UK. Check out our list of other “Books to Prisoners” groups for a list of ones we know about.

Prison Book Program is mostly funded by generous people like you! Less than 20% of our annual budget comes from grants.

No. The United First Parish Church (a Unitarian/Universalist church) generously allows us to use their space for a nominal fee because our mission coincides with their principles of justice, equity and compassion in human relations. However, we are a secular, independent 501c3 organization managed by a separate board.

We respect and honor the diverse religious beliefs of our patrons. We support the spiritual pursuits of the people who write to us, no matter which path they choose or if they choose none. We do not allow proselytizing and send religious books only when they are requested.

FAQ's About Our Services to People in Prison

People in prison can write us a letter (via postal mail) and ask for books. The letter should include their name, address, and inmate ID number. It is best to request genres of books rather than specific titles. We also have an online book request form that can be used by people inside or their family and friends.

We encourage prisoners to request genres instead of specific titles. The books in our library vary widely depending on who donates them. We cannot guarantee that we have a specific title in stock. 

Prison Book Program now has an online book request form where you can request books on behalf of your loved one. Please see our book request page if you prefer to print and mail a form.

No. We do not have the capacity to do so. It is prohibitively expensive to send large quantities of books through the mail. If you are a prison official looking for books for your library or program, please see our tips for finding books in your community.

We serve all states except Texas, California, Michigan, Nevada,  and Illinois. 

Michigan does not allow us to mail books to state prisons. Illinois is served exclusively by the amazing Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners program so we opted not to serve that state. Nevada requires books to be mailed first class which is not in our budget. Texas and California combined hold 1/5 of the US prison population. We do not have the capacity to serve that many additional people. Other books-to-prisoners groups serve the states we do not serve. See our list of other “Books to Prisoners” programs to find one. 

Because we have never advertised our services, we can only guess. We are occasionally listed on prisoner resource lists circulated by other organizations. People often say they heard about us from other prisoners or contacts on the outside.

All kinds of books. We find that with a few exceptions, the reading interests of folks in prison mimic those of the general public. Dictionaries are our most popular request – by far. We send out more than 2000 per year. Other popular titles include thesauruses, small business startup, drawing, exercise, fiction of all kinds, religion and much more.

People in prison use them for various reasons – writing letters to family, writing legal appeals, or just trying to understand unfamiliar words in the other books we send. Many people enter prison with limited reading skills and use their time to change that. Frustrated by his inability to express himself, Malcolm X famously taught himself to read and write in prison by copying every word in the dictionary.

Our selection of books depends on what people donate. Topics available vary widely. We also buy dictionaries and GED study guides.

In addition to books, we have a self-published legal reference, a resource guide that lists other organizations that help prisoners, and a few other booklets that cover topics that prisoners frequently request.

Most books are donated by individuals just like you. Occasionally, publishers and authors donate extra copies of their books. We also buy dictionaries, thesauruses, and GED study guides in bulk. Many generous people donate new books through our online wish lists too. 

FAQ's About Donating Books

Yes! Please see our “Donate Books” section for complete info on books we can and cannot use. We have limited storage space and strongly encourage donors to donate books that are not a good fit to other organizations.

No, we do not send magazines (not even National Geographic).

We cannot use every book that is donated even if it meets the criteria in our donation guidelines. Prisoner requests and space dictate what we keep and what we pass on to other organizations.

Books we cannot use are passed onto a local company where they are either sold or recycled in exchange for books we can use.  

Sorting through donations is labor and time-intensive. Please send only things you think meet our donation guidelines so that we can focus on connecting prisoners to books!

No. We do not stock prison libraries. To our knowledge, there is no centralized way to distribute books to all prison libraries. Also, we send only books that people request. We welcome donations from authors, but we find that self-published materials rarely match up with requests from people in prison.

Yes! Because many prisons require new books and because most donated books tend to be at least a few years old, non-fiction review copies and ARC’s are very useful to us. Without them we would have very few current titles or books in new condition. 

We do not offer a pick-up service, except for review copies and books from publishers. As a small nonprofit with limited staff and volunteer time, we do not have the capacity to pick up donations from most donors. You can send books through the mail, but we strongly encourage you to review our donation guidelines before doing so.

Yes, but we recommend that you check our list of other “Books to Prisoners” programs as there might be a similar organization closer to you. Shipping books can be expensive. Donating to another organization may be more effective. 

You are also welcome to ship books to us (at your expense), but we strongly encourage you to review our donation guidelines first. 

Mail books that meet our donation criteria to the following address. Please do not request a signature. Our hours do not align with typical delivery or post office hours and we may not be able to sign for it. 

Prison Book Program
1306 Hancock Street, Suite 100
Quincy, MA 02169.

FAQ's About Volunteering

We are requiring volunteers to sign up ahead of time to ensure that people can space out. United First Parish Church is now mask-optional inside the church. Hand sanitizer is available and we clean surfaces between sessions. 

Because of COVID-related capacity limits in our space, we ask people to sign up before they arrive. You can sign up just prior to arriving or days and weeks in advance. 

We ask that first time volunteers arrive at the beginning of the session so they can participate in the orientation. 

Yes! Most of our work is done by volunteers. We have jobs to match all abilities ranging from sit-down jobs to moving heavy boxes. Volunteers jobs include picking books to match requests, packing them up to be mailed, sorting and shelving book donations and processing incoming mail.

Primarily, volunteers do one of three jobs: choose books to match book requests, double-check the selections of the pickers, or prepare packages for mailing. Other tasks include opening and sorting mail, sorting book donations and more. See the “What Do Volunteers Do?” section on our volunteer page for more info.

All jobs require a high school reading level and an attention to detail. Some jobs require a high degree of manual dexterity. 

Book enthusiasts under 16 are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult. Before your child volunteers, please consider the work that is involved.  More info on the specific tasks involved can be found on our volunteer page.

Many tasks require a general knowledge of books and high-school level reading skills that younger kids usually don’t have.  In addition, letters from prisoners sometimes contain comments and life stories that may be inappropriate for kids.

All of our work is done in the basement of the United First Parish Church in the heart of Quincy Center (also known as the “Church of the Presidents.”) See our directions page for detailed info on parking and finding us in the church.

We have a constant need for people who are able to review book donations and shelve them accordingly. This includes librarians, library students, book store employees, and book enthusiasts. You do not need knowledge of any standard library categorizing systems. We have our own. If you can decipher the category of a book and get it on the right shelf, please join us. See our Book Experts page for more details.

Sometimes.  It depends on your skills and how much time you want to devote. Prior volunteers have worked on fundraising, calling prisons to verify restrictions, marketing and more. Contact info@prisonbookprogram.org if you are interested.

Partially!  The United First Parish Church has an elevator and an accessible bathroom. A core member will need to open the front door of the church for you and guide you back to our work space in the basement. Please come to our regular entrance and call 617-423-3298 for assistance. See our directions page for more details on how to find the right door. 

We work in two sections of the church – a large dining room and a small room where we shelve books. While the bookroom is too crowded for a wheelchair to navigate, there is plenty of space in the dining room. 

Yes. The church has three all-gender bathrooms including one that is single-stall and handicap accessible.

While there is no water fountain, we do provide cups people can use for tap water. We occasionally have light snacks and or other beverages available but you should not count on food. Quincy Center has several restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores where you can purchase your own food and beverages.

We encourage all of our volunteers to be informed about the trends impacting people in prison.  We have created a prison reform page of resources complied by our volunteers.