Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards five prizes of $2,500 each to individuals and institutions that have developed innovative means of creating and sustaining a lifelong love of reading. The National Book Foundation is proud to recognize Chicago Books to Women in Prison as a winner of the 2014 Innovations in Reading Prize.
Chicago Books to Women in Prison (CBWP) is a volunteer-led collective that provides paperback books to women incarcerated in the U.S. prison system. Currently we fulfill book requests from women in nine different states, ranging from California to Florida. Every Sunday we meet from 2 to 5 pm to fill book requests from our donated collection of paperback books. Each woman who writes to us receives three books, a handwritten note, and an order form so that she can write to us again and reorder. We are dedicated to offering women behind bars the opportunity for self-empowerment, education, and entertainment that reading provides. We frequently receive thank you notes from prisoners expressing their gratitude for our services. Repeatedly we hear from the women who write to us that rehabilitation is not a priority and that prison libraries tend to be dismal, if they exist at all. They also are often lacking in reading materials relevant to women and LGBT-identified individuals. Our aim as an organization is to bridge this gap, offering the women who write to us access to a range of literature, free of judgment and with no strings attached.
Why is reading vital?
Reading opens the way to new knowledge, new understanding, new self-awareness, new ways of experiencing and enjoying life. It changes lives in powerful ways. In particular, for the incarcerated women we serve, reading provides much needed self-empowerment, education and entertainment.
Tell us about some accomplishments or successes you’ve had since winning the prize:
We’re proud of what we did in 2014. [The Innovations in Reading Prize provided us with a solid foundation to achieve even more last year], including.
– Mailing 2,915 packages of books, or about 8,700 books in all—nearly 30% more than in 2013
– Beginning an Amazon Wish List, which enables us to better provide urgently needed books
– Launching a new series of community outreach events, with more to come in 2015
– Expanding into an additional room in the church that is our home
– Mailing blank journals—another important tool for self-reflection and education—on a regular basis