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Prisoner book group promotes grass roots activism

<<< With about seven other volunteers, 28-year-old Priscilla Faas read letters and order forms from inmates across the country and then tries to match up the inmates request with a book from the organization’s library at the Ark, a self-named “art gallery space” on 22 NE 11 St.

Choosing which books to send is part of the enjoyment in this work for Faas. A rehabilitation case worker, Faas said she likes volunteering with Books for Prisoners because she said the work is a tangible, hands-on form of activism.

“This is a choice they get to make for themselves,” she said.

This is the second books for prisoners program Faas has volunteered with. She worked in the Minnepolis women’s prison project.

These volunteer projects are important to her, she said, for other reasons than activism. She said the other part is it educates the community. Faas said prison can happen to any one and few people are aware of the “issues surrounding the prison industry.” She said some businesses financially benefit from prisoner work programs and that deteriorates reform and change.

She said one of the things that made the Minnepolis group so strong was the diverse pool of volunteers. She said they had everything from black anarchists to Christian evangelists.

Brett Bostock, one of the founding members of Books for Prisoners, had a similar understanding of where the local program needed to head in order to prosper.

He said ultimately the group wanted to remain neutral of activism and appeal to a wider community base He said in the past they’d held meetings on Gainesville’s East side where a greater number of poor people live—who subsequently are more likely to have their lives or families touched by prison.

Book for Prisoners packs books in east Gainesville at The Ark – what Bostock describes as an “artist’s community center.” The Ark is a warehouse that serves as a storage place for the books for prisoner’s inventory.

These aren’t fancy digs for the Sunday school church volunteer. A hand painted mural on a concrete wall declares, “No hate, No homophobia.” The books are in stacks in a dark corner. One volunteer wore a spulunker’s lantern on this forehead while he shopped for possible sends to match the letters he chose to pack. Books for Prisoners is grass roots activism at the very roots. con't >>>

Cher Phillips | Copyright © April 2005