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 and we do our best to find those in our collection of donated books. PBP serves people in all 50 states, DC, and US territories, including over 1,100 prisons.

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 readers 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. 

Currently, we serve federal facilities in all 50 states. As of February 2023, the only state facilities we do not serve are in Michigan and Texas. We are gradually seeking to become an authorized vendor in California state facilities on a request-by-request basis.

Even if we serve your jurisdiction, there are always individual facilities that simply will not accept books from our program. 

Most people say they heard about us through word of mouth. We are also actively trying to publicize our services more broadly.

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 3,500 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 educated himself by copying every word in the dictionary and then using his expanded vocabulary to read most of the books in the library at MCI-Norfolk, where he was incarcerated from 1948-1952.

Our selection of books depends on what people donate. Topics available vary widely. We also buy dictionaries, thesauri, GED study guides, and other high-demand books as we can afford them.

In addition to books, we have a self-published legal reference, a resource list of organizations that help people in prison, 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, thesauri, and GED study guides in bulk. Many generous people donate new books through our online wish lists too. 

You can request a book on behalf of your loved one, but you cannot provide it. We will not fill requests from people who want to provide the book and have us send it to their designated person. If someone wants to send a specific title to a specific person, the book must come from a retailer, publisher or bookstore.

FAQ's About Donating Books

Yes! Please read this page carefully for complete information 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 groups such as your local public library’s Friends group, your local thrift store (Goodwill, etc.), or More Than Words.

No. Most prisons require the incarcerated person to be the named subscriber on the magazine, and others will only accept the current edition of a magazine.

Storage space and level of popularity among our readers dictate what we keep and what we pass on to other organizations.

Books we cannot use are passed onto other used book dealers, thrift stores, or charities, where can often be traded for books we can use. 

No. We do not supply prison libraries, only individual readers. We do, however, welcome donations from authors if your book is in a frequently requested category (see Top Requests above)

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 ARCs are very useful to us.

No. We have a very small staff and currently do not have the capacity to pick up donations. You can send books through the mail, but we strongly encourage you to review the donation guidelines above before doing so.

Yes, you are welcome to ship books to us at your expense. Use Media Mail to save money, and please do not send a shipment that requires a signature. 

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

Please also browse our list of other books to prisons programs nationwide. There may be another group close to you!

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 and masks are available.

As of June 2023, we are now requiring masks twice a month: on the first Wednesday of the month and the fourth Saturday of the month. We hope that people with higher needs for covid precautions will be able to join us on these days!

You can sign up on our website before the session. Some sessions fill up quickly, especially Saturdays, so sign up early! 

We ask that first time volunteers arrive at the beginning of the session, and all volunteers should stay through the session to help clean up. 

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. 

There are no prerequisites or orientations for volunteers. If you are under 18, please look under “Can kids volunteer” below.

Volunteer jobs depend on what is needed each session, but usually volunteers can choose among a few options depending on what fits their ability and interest. The most common jobs are choosing books to match book requests, double-checking the selections of the pickers, preparing packages for mailing, or sorting book donations. 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 at a volunteer session!

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. Most volunteers who do remote tasks start by volunteering in person, to get to know PBP and our needs. Contact volunteer@prisonbookprogram.org if you are interested.

Partially!  The United First Parish Church has an elevator and an accessible bathroom. A staff 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 usually have light snacks 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. 

Many of our volunteers need signed confirmation of their hours, which we can provide. Ask at a volunteer session, where we have blank forms to fill out. If you want a personalized letter with all the dates you volunteered included, email us before your final session and we can have it ready for you.