Spotlight On Open Books Bookstore: Prison Book Project
Start writing a post
Entertainment

Spotlight On Open Books Bookstore: Prison Book Project

#OpenBooksOpenMinds

55
Spotlight On Open Books Bookstore: Prison Book Project
Courtesy of Josh Carlson Photography

68% of inmates return to prison within three years of being released, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Many of these repeat offenders lack the education or skills needed to effectively integrate back into society.

One local bookstore is determined to help inmates reach their fullest potential while behind bars; which is why this week the spotlight is on Open Books Bookstore and Prison Book Project.

This non-profit organization, located at 1040 N. Guillemard Street in Pensacola, is completely operated by volunteers. Open 7 days a week from 12-5 p.m., the bookstore also houses the Prison Book Project; sending thousands of donated books to prisoners within the Florida prison system.

“I think something that a lot of people don’t really think of when they think of … prisoners in general, is that almost all of them are going back to the community,” explained Open Books co-founder Scott Satterwhite.

The goal of the Prison Book Project is to provide inmates with personal and educational reading material in order to “help reduce the likelihood of their returning to the prison system.” Volunteers help run the store front and assist with a weekly book packing night from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday evenings.

Johnny Ardis, a volunteer with the project for nearly 8 years, said that in addition to the volunteers, “We have a loyal following in the community that donates books and money to us to keep the organization functioning.”


Although Open Books receives a variety of new and used books, the selection can be limited; however, requests are filled no matter what. Occasionally, special orders can be made to accommodate specific requests- when funds are available.

Interestingly, journals and blank compositions books are most popular among female inmates while Fantasy books seem to be preferred by male prisoners. In general, dictionaries, crossword puzzles, books on religion, philosophy, and foreign languages are among the most requested items.

What type of books are they lacking in donation? “Books on learning trades and work skills are our biggest need right now,” said Ardis. G.E.D. (General Education Development) books are also regularly requested but hard to come by.

Prison libraries could be a great resource for inmates to learn a trade or skill while incarcerated but many of these services are severely underfunded. Compounding the issue, prison policy prohibits friends or family members from sending books to inmates; prisoners may only receive books from a bookstore.

Originally, the Prison Book Project was based out of Subterranean Books, formerly downtown, until 2007 when they closed down. In October of that same year, Open Books Bookstore was established on the west side of Pensacola to continue the project. Open Books relocated in 2012 to the current Long Hollow Neighborhood storefront, next door to First City Arts Center.

Each prison has its own policy on book limitations; usually around 4 books per inmate. At this time, Open Books can typically accommodate 2-3 books per order. Additionally, a National Prisoner Resource List that includes information about other book organizations can be provided upon request. This way prisoners can utilize various groups and receive books more frequently.

As a non-profit organization, obstacles are to be expected. “Our biggest challenge is having enough funds to mail all of the books that are requested,” Ardis said. Open Books website boasts processing “150 inmate book requests at a cost of $525 for mailing” each month. While operating cost total “around $800 – $1,000/month.

One thing that Satterwhite would like people to know is that all of the proceeds raised by the Open Books Bookstore help to fund the Prison Books Project. “So if you bought a $5 book, that would essentially send a package of books to somebody in prison. If anybody’s ever interested in donating to the bookstore they can simply buy a book.”

On average, 40 out of 75 requests are filled each week. “Currently, we are about 3 months behind on filling requests,” shared Ardis. Events like the annual Pack-A-Thon help to fill additional orders but time isn’t the only factor.

Expanding by leaps and bounds, during 2015 the Prison Book Project mailed 3,325 packages totaling over $7,500.00 in shipping cost; as compared to 2012’s 960 packages.

Ardis explains that the measure of success for the Prison Book Project is in their “ability to keep up with book requests.” Volunteers are hoping that the recently received 501(c)(3) status that now allows the organization to receive federal tax exemptions will also yield larger donations. Ardis explains, “If we are able to get funding from foundations and corporations, it will help us greatly. If all goes as planned, we will be able to raise enough funds to mail all book requests in a timely manner.”

Included in every package is an information sheet about Open Books and the Prison Book Project to be shared with others. Ardis believes that the project has had the most success by word of mouth; prisoners pass along the information and thus the Project is expanded.

Blending “old school” books with “new school” technology, Open Books now accepts Bitcoin donation; very cutting edge! The storefront also showcases prison and local artistry with a portion of the proceeds donated to bookstore operations.

“There aren’t a lot of brick and mortar bookstores around, especially used book stores, so to have one is important; and that it offers many other things besides just the books,” said Satterwhite. “We offer a space for people to get together and meet, to have film showings-which we do, community events, all sorts of different things like that. So, we’re a lot more than just a bookstore.”

Satterwhite added, “One thing that we offer is friendly communication, without any judgement at all. We don’t ask what people did. We don’t care what people did to get into prison. They ask for something and we give it to them. It’s as simple as that.”

In return, prisoners send letters of thanks to the volunteers; they also send gifts of artwork or inspirational quotes such as, “No matter what happens, always be thankful.” Open Books Bookstore & Prison Book Project expects to continue sending books to prisoners as long as they have support from volunteers and donations to do so.

“I can’t think of too many other activist projects where it’s really that simple. You know, someone just asks you for a book, and if you got it, you give it to them, and that’s it."

Would you like to get involved? Consider volunteering for the weekly Prison Book Project book packing night, Wednesday’s 6:00– 8:00 p.m. at the Open Books Bookstore location. Why not donate? One time or monthly donations are accepted and appreciated. Also, check the Facebook page and website for the next Pack-A-Thon where prison arts and crafts will also be on sale; TBD by the end of June.

Open Books Bookstore & Prison Book Project

1040 N. Guillemard St., Pensacola, FL 32501

http://www.openbookspcola.org

(850) 453-6774

openbookspcola@riseup.net


As always, if you know of a person or organization that has made an impact on the community, please nominate them for this series. Email me at Rebecca.Carlson1984@gmail.com with the subject line “Spotlight: Philanthropy” and a brief description of the person and their achievements.


Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Lifestyle

Founders Of Color: Rec Room's Dre Taylor On What Blackness Can Look Like And Not Working For Free

"It mattered to me that when we were depicting racial diversity for Rec Room, we showed the broad spectrum of what Blackness can look like."

Rec Room

The world of sustainable fashion is inundated with marketing gimmicks, false advertising, and large corporations cutting corners — Rec Room is the pure antithesis of that.

Keep Reading... Show less

Dunkin' just announced that they'll be releasing their fall menu earlier than ever — set to debut on August 19 — and that it'll include new menu options this season, including a new signature pumpkin spice latte. Let me just say, Starbucks has some fall-menu competition now.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

CBD Lip Balm Is The Calming Presence You Need In Your Life, Trust Me

I tried lip balm, sleep gummies, and an oil dropper from CBDistillery. Here's the final verdict.

@lilyjmoe

CBD has been on making waves within the wellness space for the last few years. Generally related to the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain, it's growing easier to find small CBD companies who are making products specifically designed to fit your needs. As FDA rules for CBD production can be a little hazy, it's true that not all CBD products are created equally. That's why it's important to look into the manufacturing of whatever you're deciding to try, especially if you're new to taking CBD.

As someone who has tried a variety of CBD products — some victories, some failures — I was thrilled when CBDistillery sent me a package of their favorites. They included a Broad Spectrum CBD Oil Tincture, their Nighttime Gummies, and a CBD Lip Balm.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Went To Disney For The First Time Since COVID-19 And It's Officially The Cleanest Place On Earth

I stopped focusing on the pandemic simply because, for the first time in months, I felt safe.

After a few months of self-quarantining, becoming suspicious of every cough, and blowing through masks like a medical school student, restrictions due to the pandemic are easing up a bit and businesses are warily reopening. While these public spaces may look the same on the outside, the way they function and operate is vastly different than a few months ago.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 At-Home Therapy Tips You Need, No Matter What Your Therapy Routine Is

Whether you're in a Zoom session or live-chatting, make sure your home therapy space is good to go.

No matter what stigmas you held about therapy before this year, I'm sure 2020 has affirmed that we could ALL use a nice long therapy session. Between wildfires that took over an entire continent, a global health crisis, and what's sure to be one giant circus of an election in the United States, we need help and we need it now.

The fact of the matter is, therapy has been a helpful, valid resource long before the world decided to become one giant dumpster fire. Having a safe space to discuss what's going on in your life, worries you have, and struggles you're facing has become a very normal thing for individuals' mental health.

Keep Reading... Show less

When it comes to wedding planning, each and every detail is customized to the style of the couple. From venue and decorations to food and beverages, nothing gets overlooked — whether your wedding is big, small, or virtual.

The same thing goes for invites, which are getting more and more beautiful every wedding season. If you're looking to customize your wedding invitations, the options are endless... you can add pictures if you wish, opt for fancy artwork, or keep it simple with just text).

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

23 Burning Questions We Have For The Taureans In Our Lives, Answered By A Taurus

The remaining 11 signs took the bull by the horns, and it was a fun and insightful experience!

Jordyn Leach

Lately, I've been digging deeper into astrology and studying my sign. Throughout the journey, it's come to my attention that Taurus are probably one of the most complicated signs - that is, if you're not a Taurus.

To gain a little more perspective on how my sign is viewed by the others, I requested that the participants submit a question in response to the following:

Keep Reading... Show less
Universal Pictures

A music enthusiast like myself has a playlist for every mood. Life's a movie and you're the main character. In no specific order, listen to these songs to feel on top of the world!

Pro Tip: turn your crossfade up to 3 seconds for a seamless transition between each song!

Keep Reading... Show less

It's the most wonderful time of the year again — it's sorority recruitment season! While recruitment can be a fun and memorable experience, it can also take a toll on your mental health, especially this year, considering the special circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few reminders to keep in your mental health toolkit during recruitment week to help keep your mental health at bay during this unique experience.

Keep Reading... Show less

We've all been there. You see that super cute guy on your dating app of choice, his bio is funny, and then, the gut-wrenching feeling hits when you see their political views don't exactly line up with yours. He loves Trump, you can't stand him, or vice versa.

A lot of people will say you can get over politics, but I know from personal experience, as well as this survey, that politics play a huge role in whether a relationship will work or if we're even willing to swipe right on that profile.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments