A “thank you” for sending me the book Reason of Hope by Jane Goodall. I am enjoying reading it. But I am equally if not more so impressed and appreciate your book offering to me, a prisoner. Our universe would be a much better place if more people displayed acts of reaching out with kindness. Thank you. Sorry if I misspelled your name. —Timothy
Asheville’s Prison Books Program often gets handwritten letters like this one, from prisoners whose only recourse to continue education and life is from reading. The group is a volunteer collective, and this week celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week. The letters would seem to be testament to the positive impact the group has had on the lives of the incarcerated.
“We are always in a situation where we have more requests to fill than money to fulfill them,” says Moira Bradford, a volunteer with APB for more than two years. The group spends about $80 on postage alone every week, she says.
To help fill the need, the Program will launch a fund drive this weekend to raise money and awareness. On Friday, a silent art auction featuring the work of more than 25 artists will be held at BoBo Gallery. This is a fantastic chance to snatch up pieces by local artists such as ceramic artist Sarah Danforth, multimedia artist Christine Ratanaphruks and painter Courtney Chappell. Abu Disarray, a DJ, will spin dance records, and the always unique James Owen (Doom Ribbons, Burning Bush) will perform.
Prison Books has come up with a novel fundraising strategy for Saturday: street performance for charity. All day long, buskers will be performing around Asheville to collect money for the program and also for Tranzmissions, a group that provides support to inmates dealing with gender and sexual identity issues.
A high school teacher by day, graduate student by night, Bradford plans to write impromptu poems for donations. “I’ll be taking requests — if someone wants a love poem, I’ll write that, or a breakup poem — whatever they want.”
Other buskers will include accordionist Patrick Kukucka (Boys of Summer, Hands of Winsor McCay) and sax player Logan Murray. The country-western band Tony Wayne and the Pain will perform, and face-painting and fortune-telling will also be available. Look for these acts around Pritchard Park, Haywood Street and Lexington Avenue on Saturday.
The modest headquarters of the Prison Books program is located in the basement of a home in Montford, where hundreds of donated books are categorized by subject matter on tall bookshelves lining the walls. Letters from prisoners — usually written out by hand — are mailed to the group, with requests for specific books or genres of books. They most often request dictionaries. A volunteer then matches the literature that most closely reflects the needs of the prisoner, while keeping in mind the restrictions of the prison facility. A prisoner expressing an interest in philosophy and fiction, for example, may find themselves with copies of Siddhartha and Catcher in the Rye.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, currently more than 2.3 million people are living behind bars. “With educational programming being drastically cut in prisons, the need for our service has never been greater,” Bradford says. “Education is the only tool proven to help prevent people from returning to prison again and again.”
Book donations can be dropped off at the group’s collection box, which is located outside of the French Broad Food Co-op on Biltmore Avenue. For more information about the Asheville Prison Books Program, visit www.main.nc.us/prisonbooks/
who: Asheville Prison Books program
what: 10 year anniversary celebration and fundraiser
where: various locations around downtown Asheville, including BoBo Gallery, Pritchard Park, Haywood Street, Lexington Avenue
when: Friday, June 19 (8 p.m. silent auction and music at BoBo); Saturday, June 20 (day-long busking, performance art, fortune-telling and more)