I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.

 —Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that sends free books to women and men who are imprisoned in the Appalachian region. The Project sends books to West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Many prisons lack adequate libraries, and books can be a real life line to people doing time. Studies have repeatedly shown that recidivism rates go down when people in prison have access to educational programs. APBP considers its work part of this larger social goal.

Founded by Katy Ryan and members of her graduate prison literature course in the fall of 2004, APBP is a labor-intensive effort that requires books, volunteers, money for postage and supplies, and lots of organizing. Volunteers respond to individual letters from imprisoned people requesting reading materials. The Project receives approximately 80 letters every week.

Quotes from Letters to APBP

* I am a mother of 3 and I need the following: Parenting, Parents, Child, Family Fun, Family Circle, Working Mother, etc. in magazines. Old is fine . . . Potty Training—anything for 2-5 years old—Help! . . . (Virginia)

* I stayed up and read the book all night. I really did enjoy the book and I thank you again. I love reading . . . I have one more request, for a Scrabble dictionary that would stop a lot of fighting here, when they are playing the game. (West Virginia)

* Thank you for your concern for those of us on the other side of the wall. (Ohio)

* Since I am in a 9×12 cell 24/7 with no TV and walkmen, I have very little to do but read . . . .I sleep eighteen to twenty hours a day, give or take a few. And I have nine years to go. So, I want to learn a few things. (Virginia)

* I received your book, To Kill a Mockingbird, one week ago today. It was an excellent book, one I had never read before. I was unaware of all the awards it had won, which made the reading all the more enjoyable. I have passed the book along to another already, and look to continue so until I donate it to our library. (Ohio)

* I was quite surprised, and very pleased, to hear back from you so quickly . . . I have passed the first book I received on to two others so far, and plan to do so until the cover falls off! (The library here can fix it up when I donate it.) I am thrilled to hear that you are hoping to start-up a pen-pal program!! As a child growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, our neighbors were of West Virginia descent. The best neighbors I have ever had! (Ohio)

* I was glad to learn that a program like yours has finally taken root in West Virginia. There is a newspaper article posted here in the library . . . You’re doing a good thing! (West Virginia)

* As a inmate doing time I pass my time by reading because it keeps me out of trouble and it opens my mind to new things. When I get into a good book I am transported away from this place to the places in the books. I read about 2 to 3 books a week. (West Virginia)

* I was advised to contact you regarding receipt of “Puzzle Books.” . . . I have been confined for more than 35 years and this is the first such organization that I have known, or heard of, that provides any type of books to inmates. Most of my family members have passed away during my confinement. (Virginia)

* I would love 2 receive some of your free books. My family has little money so I cant afford books 2 read. I love reading because it takes your mind from being locked up, and it’s fundamental. (Virginia)

* First, thank you for all that you do to help and reach a lot of people with your kindness and good will. May God keeps always blessing you . . . I am 41 years old and I am trying to get my GED since I never went to school. I want to better myself and be a more prepare person. I think that never is too late. (Pennsylvania)

* I would like to receive a book with poems in them. Romantic poems, Friendly poems, Spiritual poems. POEMS ONLY BOOK! At least 200 or 300 or more. (Virginia)

* I do not have any funds (as you notice with the institution providing the postage fee on the outer envelope.) And I was just wondering just what type of books you could offer for free, because more than anything at the moment—I very much need a Dictionary. I enjoy writing but not very good at spelling. (Maryland)

* I love to read but due to a lack of finances, I can not order books from a publishing house. I greatly admire James Herriot and I have a hard time finding his work. (Maryland)

 ”There are more than seven thousand men and women incarcerated in West Virginia alone, and most of them are living with few resources by which to better their lives. Books are food for the soul and the intellect.”

—Mark Brazaitis, APBP member and award-winning author

“Prison-based education is the single most effective tool in reducing recidivism. “

—Report by the National Institute of Justice to the US Congress