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I've recently been in touch with a New Orleans group, Books2Prisoners. They have been delivering books to prisoners in the area for some time and have now started to gather books for the juvenile detention centers as well. It's all slow going, as you can imagine, and yes - every book they had stored was destroyed back in Katrina.

First a little background on why I think you need to donate your ARCs and review copies to kids in jail. First, keep in mind that juveniles are held at detention centers before they are tried - so many of these kids are just waiting for something to happen in their cases. More importantly though, crime in New Orleans is out of control - everybody knows it, we are all talking about it and shaking our heads and precious little is being done to change it. Just the other day, one 17-year old shot and killed another for the strangest of reasons - a fist fight escalated to guns because the shooter's mother apparently told him to do it.

Yeah, it's looking more and more like Baghdad everyday.

You can read an excellent update on NOLA crime here, and also a report from the Children's Defense Fund last week which states, in part:

As the violence in New Orleans and Louisiana continues to escalate in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) released Protect Children, Not Guns 2007, its annual report that details how each and every day we continue to lose children and teens to gun violence throughout America.

The report was presented at the Civil Rights-focused Samuel DeWitt Proctor Pastor's three-day Conference which met here in New Orleans culminating with the Rev. Al Sharpton and prominent ministers condemning President Bush, Governor Blanco, and Mayor Nagin for their lack of action in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

While gun violence plagues cities and towns across the U.S., news accounts last week report that New Orleans has experienced some of the most pervasive gun problems and is now considered the nation's "murder capital."

You can also read about the impact of Louisiana's high incarceration rate on the state's children at an older article (from 2005) that predates Katrina but expresses "...the Kids Count survey ranks Louisiana 49th in the United States when an array of indicators for child well-being are factored together, among them rates of child death, single-parent homes and households where parents don't hold full-time jobs."

To combat all of this, Nik Bose at Books2Prisoners contacted me to spearhead an effort to collect ARCs and review copies from bloggers and reviewers and use them to build libraries in several New Orleans area juvenile facilities. They are already working with the Youth Study Center and also plan to bring books to Bridge City, Jetson and Swanson. (NPR ran a piece on New Orleans juvenile centers last year. There's also a much more indepth piece on juvenile detention before, during and after Katrina at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana.) The books will be initally processed at The Iron Rail, a community book and music collective, which is where the group already holds their weekly meetings.

They are looking for books from the middle grade reading level and up, primarily dealing with multi-cultural themes and characters. As many of you kid lit reviewers know, it isn't easy to find juvenile or YA books that have African American characters. Nik is more than happy to take any book - the group will sort through them and deliver those books to the kids that they think will work best and donate the rest to other area groups (libraries, etc.) in need of reading material.

In other words, there are certain books they are looking for but they are so desperate they will take whatever you've got.

I wanted to ask the Sci Fi and Fantasy reviewers in particular to dig deep on this effort - I think SFF titles are often overlooked for teen readers but can resonate the deepest, as many fans of the genre will attest. Ethnic issues are dealt with differently in SFF titles (when you are dealing with aliens or faeries, humans are just one more part of the mix, not the whole deal), and because of that, it is often SFF authors that children will remember the deepest and return to throughout their lives.

Please understand that this is not a momentary thing we are doing - these kids are in serious trouble and if the one thing we can do for them that might make a positive difference is send some books, then you can bet we need to keep doing it for months and months and years and years to come.

We need to send them books and we need to keep on sending.

Here's the mailing address:

Books 2 Prisoners
1631 Elysian Fields PO Box #117
New Orleans, LA 70117

ATTN: Nik Bose

And Nik has asked that you please send a brief email and give them a heads-up that books are on the way. As they receive their packages at a box, they don't want them to stack up and will make sure someone checks often when they know something is coming. The email address is twista@riseup.net.

Also, I am putting together a wishlist at Powells Books for the group for those folks who want to send something but do not have the piles of ARCs that some of the rest of us have. Any recommendations for multi-cultural titles will be heartily accepted. I'm also looking for good SFF and mysteries to add. I thought I would put it up at Powells so folks could buy used copies, and thus spend a little more (grin).

Finally, for those of you with adult titles that won't work for this effort, may I suggest you head over to the Camel Bookmobile site and donate five books to Kenya? I read about this at the NBCC blog today and I can not believe there is a camel bookmobile - or that regions of northern Kenya suffer from an 85% illiteracy rate. I will be sending my five books this week and will certainly be looking for a copy of author Masha Hamilton's book aas well.

So, this is the part where I tell you that books matter (but you already know that) and ask you please to do something with the many free books you have that might just make the world a better place. I'm not naive - I know that a book can not cure poverty, or broken homes or a crappy education or gang violence. But I'm also not a fool and I do know that without some movement towards positive change, nothing will happen at all. It's easy to shake your head and turn off the news and go back to your middle class lifestyle with all of its clean countertops, minivans and trips to the Gap. This is the harder part, and believe me, I'm no easier to motivate than anyone else, but I feel like with the world going to hell in a handbasket, I have to do something - we all have to do something.

This project resonates so strongly with me because I come from a life that needed the library desperately, that saw one comic book purchase every payday (every two weeks) because that was all my parents could afford. I spent all year waiting for Christmas and the chance to own some books of my own. We weren't poor, but we were close - we could see it and feel it and taste it. We lived paycheck to paycheck and I have never forgotten how close you can be to having nothing; how small the distance is from security to loss.

A book is just a book - on one level. But it's also the whole world if you haven't seen it before, it's places and people and ideas you never knew existed. Every great reader out there knows a book can change everything when it is the right book at the right time.

Something Wicked This Way Comes
and A Wrinkle in Time - are the ones for me. They taught me how to be brave and I've never forgotten those moments when I learned that; those moments when a book changed my life.

Send all questions and suggestions to colleenatchasingraydotcom.

UPDATE: I have started a list at Powells. You access the wishlist lookup here, and use my email (as listed above but with the correct symbols instead of "at" and "dot") to go to the list. Pretty damn easy, I swear. Be aware that Powells will request the mailing address I have listed earlier in this entry - there is no way for me to pre-enter a shipping list. I'm using Powells though because it is very very easy to select inexpensive used copies of books (most of the ones I have listed are around $5!!!). If you want to help but don't have books of your own to send, then this is the perfect way. I'll be adding to the list constantly as more folks make suggestions. And thank you to everyone who has already linked to this entry - each and everyone of you rock!

comments

Hi Colleen,

I just put up a post linking to yours. Hope it helps!

As for books, I would suggest Behind the Eyes by Francisco X. Stork.

Thanks Jen, I really appreciate the support!

Colleen,
This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for letting us know about how we can help.

Thanks for stopping by Vivian and anything you can do will be much appreciated.

Mock Turtle

I have posted a link to this post over at LISNews.org. Rock on!

Mock Turtle

Colleen, do you want title suggestions posted here, or strictly via email?

I think there is a lot better way to use these books. I also think that pre-trial detainees deserve reading material, after all they are not guilty of crimes.

Being a librarian I also think that everyone deserves something to read for a myriad of reasons.

This is quite the conumdrum for me as I am a 'tough on crime, yet freedom to read person. In that respect I have offered to pay for a few shipments of books in case libraries have no budget for it. See my post on LISNews.org http://lisnews.org/article.pl?sid=07/02/14/032209


Matt: I'm a bit confused as to what the "better way to use these books" is that you allude to. I donate literally hundreds of books every year to all sorts of local groups (as well as sending some in the direction of my family). This is just another way to direct free books to folks in need in my way of thinking.

I see from your linked comment that you think it is illegal to donate ARCs - no, it is not. Please understand many of us have hundreds, if not thousands, delivered to us annually. If we did not donate these books then what would do with them? Throw them away? Really - honestly - it is fine to donate ARCs and review copies.

As to who is in these facilities, well, what I see are largely poor kids who are undereducated and bored out of their minds and getting into a ton of trouble. Will books change their lives? Probably not - except for those few that they do change everything for. And those are the ones I'm hoping we can help.

Look, I'll be blunt. I taught history to soldiers stationed at Ft Wainwright, AK for five years. These were college students - these guys had never done time in jail, obviously. And guess what? More than a few were from southern towns where they attended segregated schools. (Yes, you read that right - they had never seen a white kid in their school and this was less than ten years ago.)

They couldn't write complete sentences and had never read a whole book, cover to cover. They didn't know anyone who had. They were guys who wanted more from life (hence the fact they were enrolled in my college class) but the bottom line was that they had a lot against them because our school system doesn't see you the same way if you are from a poor community.

I look at these kids in juvenile detention as dirt poor who have little opportunity and then make ill informed choices and get in trouble. If they are stuck sitting on their butts in juvenile detention for weeks (or months) on end, then I think reading would be a great thing for them to be doing.

Remember, every American, convicted criminal or not, can use the public libraries in this country. All I want to do is help set up some libraries with used books for some kids who won't have that access otherwise.

This one is close to the bone for me Matt, because I know how hard it is to get access to books when you don't have money and when you add the stigma of jail, well everything gets that much tougher.

As to personal responsibility, well yes I believe in that. But I do not for a minute claim to know what it is like to be a poor minority in the murder capital of the country. Courts can pass judgement for the crimes, I'm just making it possible for some kids to read a good book while they're serving their time.

Mock Turtle:

Either way is fine - and thanks for the linking too!

Deborah

Every time a plea like this goes out, lots of people fill boxes with damaged, dated, or otherwise useless books and overload the volunteer organization with crud they cannot use. So while I think this is a fantastic use of resources, I'd like to add the corollary that people should think about what they send. If you think it's borderline, or if you think that the book you are donating is in pretty bad condition or has pretty worthless content but is better than nothing, contact the recipient organization *first*, so that your well-meaning donation doesn't just result in a volunteer having to haul lots of worthless books to the dump.

This is a great opportunity to send books to a useful organization; it's not a great opportunity to clear up the basement of books you can't bear to throw away.

Well said Deborah, although to be honest all of the folks who have contacted me have planned to send ARCs and review copies and not old books that are lying around. Most reviewers don't keep the books long enough for them to get outdated and as we are usually the only readers (if we even read them) they don't get out of shape either.

One of the reasons why I asked specifically for ARCs and review copies was to avoid what you are talking about.

Rose

Pulitzer prize winner Anna Quindlan once said, "Readers read to know they are not alone." Maybe if more kids in jail could see themselves this way, they would work towards rehabilitation.

This is a terrific use of ARCs and books, thanks.

For those just stopping by now, I've heard great things via email from authors who are sending ARCs for their own books and also many reviewers sending ARCs, etc. It's all going great and I'm very excited to hear about what shows up!

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