Supporting Prison Libraries

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Photo of the interior of a prison with an open cell visible in the foreground

Cold Mountain Review (CMR), the long-running eco- and social-justice journal at Appalachian State University (App State), recently marked the fifth anniversary of its Reaching Inside Project, a donor-funded initiative that distributes archived copies of the literary journal to incarcerated individuals in correctional facilities nationwide.

Mark Powell, professor of creative writing at App State and an editor of CMR, started the program in response to a growing trend of facilities limiting or eliminating private book donations. Nonprofits and individuals who had traditionally donated reading materials to prison libraries found their contributions rejected or returned, with policies now favoring books from publishers, bookstores, or approved online sources.

The Reaching Inside Project aims to contribute to effective education programming as a deterrent to recidivism, as highlighted in a study by Ben Stickle and Steven Sprick Schuster titled “Are Schools in Prison Worth It? The Effects and Economic Returns of Prison Education,” published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice. Powell, who spent three years teaching at the Lawtey Correctional Institution in Florida, shares this perspective.

“Education can change everything about an incarcerated person’s trajectory. It makes sense for institutions of higher education to take up the slack when prison libraries make donation difficult for individuals. We have this wealth of resources, and many colleges have in-house presses and publications that could viably contribute their books to inmates,” Powell says.

Through the Reaching Inside Project, donors cover shipping costs, allowing CMR to assemble 20 copies of archived journal issues. These packages are then sent directly to correctional facilities whose policies permit books sent from publishers.

Powell emphasizes the significance of the project, stating, “During my time at Lawtey, I heard consistently from inmates that the most important thing for them was feeling that they haven’t been completely forgotten by the outside world. So alongside the benefits of providing them with expanded access to reading materials, just them knowing that someone outside is taking the time to think of them and send them something is really significant.”

>> Interested donors can reach out to the editors at coldmountain@appstate. edu for more information.