Naked City

Putting Books Behind Bars

Q: Why do they bury cops six feet under?

A: Because deep down, they're really good people.

This joke appeared across the bottom of several letters packed at the Inside Books Project's recent 100-hour work party at the Center for Mexican American Cultural Arts. The letters and the books were sent to prisoners across Texas, along with books collected through donations. Because the prison mail systems are notorious for refusing correspondence, IBP collective members initially tore off the offending lines. "But then we came up with just crossing it off with a marker," explained Maggie, a regular volunteer with the three-year old project. "If someone really wanted to read [the joke] -- such as the person getting the letter -- they could, but someone who's just checking for naughtiness won't find it." About 100 young folks from as far away as Denver showed up for the four-day party, which featured a sleeping room, movies about prison issues, and food donated from several local restaurants and coffee shops. Volunteers filled more than 1,000 requests for free books from IBP's five-month backlog, and as of day three had reached Nov. 8. The project's next challenge is raising the $3,000 in postage to ship off the books.

IBP is one of a loose network of similar collectives across the country that send free donated books and literature to prisoners. (The oldest such organization is 15-year-old Books Through Bars in Philadelphia, which now publishes prisoner art calendars to raise funds.) IBP primarily tables at other events to raise rent and postage, but always accepts donations of books and money at their 12th St. Books location. For more info, contact Inside Books Project, c/o 12th St. Books, 827 W. 12th, Austin, TX 78704.

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