Change in Action: People & Prisons—Tues., September 15 at After-Words Books

You’re invited!

Hear two formerly incarcerated women speak on the importance of books during their time in prison.

− Learn how Chicago organizations are responding to prison issues
− Engage in discussion with community leaders and the formerly incarcerated
− Discover the wide range of ways you can become involved

Change in Action: People & Prisons

Tuesday, September 15, 6:30 p.m.
After-Words New and Used Books
23 E. Illinois St., Chicago

One block south of the Grand (Red Line) station
Parking can be found one block east at 430 N. Rush St.

Food and drinks will be served

In collaboration with our friends

− Black and Pink
− CLAIM (Chicago Legal Advocacy to Incarcerated Mothers) with Visible Voices
− Community Renewal Society with F.O.R.C.E
− Liberation Library

Let us know you’re coming on the Facebook event page.

Download the event flyer.

New Volunteers: Next Orientation is Sunday, August 30


Recently we heard from Padrica H. in Florida, who sent us a couple of the holiday decorations she makes for members of the armed services. She included this note:

Again thank you for your kindness. I love giving these out to put a little cheer in your space. Please accept them in the spirit of goodwill, peace and love.

See why what we do means a lot to the women we serve. Join us for our next new volunteer orientation, led by one of our experienced volunteers, Sunday, August 30, 1–2 p.m., right before our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here.

If you can’t make it this time, plan now to join us for the Sunday, September 27 orientation. Or check out the other ways you can get involved and help women in prisons around the country enjoy the self-empowerment, education, and entertainment that reading provides.

New Volunteers: Next Orientation is Sunday, July 26


You can help make this kind of difference to the thousands of incarcerated women we reach every year.

Join us for our next orientation session, led by one of our experienced volunteers, Sunday, July 26, 1–2 p.m., right before our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here.

If you can’t make it this week, plan now to join us for the August 30 orientation or whenever you can. Rarely available on Sundays? There are lots of other ways to get involved and help get books in the hands of women in prison. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank You, Crossroads Fund


We are delighted to announce that Crossroads Fund has awarded us a grant of $4,000 in this year’s Seed Fund program.

This generous funding will be dedicated to general operating costs—enabling us to get many more books in the hands of the women we serve—as well as to special projects to create awareness and inspire action around issues related to our work.

It’s an honor to be one of the many groups that Crossroads Fund supports in working for racial, social and economic justice across a wide range of issues and communities.

New Volunteers: Next Orientation is Sunday, June 28

Spend some time with us this Sunday afternoon! You’ll find a warm welcome in our pleasantly cool space.

Our next orientation session, led by one of our experienced volunteers, is Sunday, June 28, 1–2 p.m., right before our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here.


Racial Injustice: The Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline—Weds., June 24

About 80% of Illinois prisoners were in the foster care system during childhood.

Join us for the forum Racial Injustice: The Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline, presented by the Unitarian Church of Evanston’s Prisons and Restorative Justice committee. AlexanderTolliverCollage

The event will feature a screening of Michelle Alexander on The New Jim Crow and Dorothy Roberts on The Color of Child Welfare, followed by a live presentation and discussion with Charity Tolliver, founder of Black on Both Sides—a new organization that works to end the foster care-to-prison pipeline. Continue reading ‘Racial Injustice: The Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline—Weds., June 24’

Black and Pink penpal meetup—Sat., June 13 at Uncharted Books

Black&PinkCurrently a penpal with Black and Pink: Chicago?

Ever thought about being a penpal with a prisoner?

Black and Pink—an open family of GLBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other—can connect you with a queer or trans prisoner in Illinois.

Join volunteers from Chicago Books to Women in Prison in conversation with Black and Pink on strengthening pen pal relationships, talking through issues that may come up in letter writing, and building community. Whether you’ve been writing someone for years, or are just considering becoming a pen pal, we’d love to see you there! Continue reading ‘Black and Pink penpal meetup—Sat., June 13 at Uncharted Books’

Up in Here book discussion—Fri., June 5 at City Lit Books

Join us at City Lit Books in welcoming Mark Dostert to discuss his debut memoir, Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, which chronicles his experiences as a counselor at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, Chicago’s infamous 500-cell juvenile jail, known as the Audy Home.

Mark will be in conversation with Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America. We’re looking forward to a provocative dialogue. Don’t miss it!

Friday, June 5, 6:30 p.m.
CityLit Books
2523 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago

UpInHere     ThereAreNoChildrenHere

Learn more on the City Lit event page.

New Volunteers: Next Orientation is Sunday, May 31

Whatever level of involvement you may be interested in—from weekly participation to occasional volunteering to special off-site projects—you’re invited.

Join us for our next orientation session, led by one of our experienced volunteers, Sunday, May 31, 1–2 p.m. It’s right before our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here.

You’ll learn why the women we serve send us wonderful things like this!


Meet Linnea Kennedy, Our Featured Volunteer

Linnea_profileIt’s National Volunteer Week, so this seemed the perfect time to introduce our series of occasional features on the volunteers at Chicago Books to Women in Prison. And because, sadly for us, Linnea will be moving to California this spring, we wanted to put her in the spotlight while we can.

How and why did you get involved with Chicago Books to Women in Prison? I first learned about CBWP in fall 2012 when I was a graduate student at Roosevelt University in the Women’s & Gender Studies program. Megan Bernard, the former coordinator, came to a Women’s Studies 101 class that I was the TA for, and she gave a great talk to the students about CBWP, prison justice, activism, etc. I was intrigued and wanted to come volunteer, but didn’t actually get around to it until almost a year later when I was out of grad school, unemployed, and looking for ways to connect with like-minded folks and to educate myself more about prison justice issues. From the first Sunday that I volunteered at CBWP, I was hooked!

What is a typical afternoon of volunteering like for you? Even though answering letters is my favorite activity, first and foremost I like to pitch in where it’s needed the most—whether that’s organizing and shelving a big donation, cutting up paper bags or assisting with the Special Requests project. 2 to 5 p.m. seems like a lot of time, but really it flies by, so it’s essential to have lots of willing hands on board to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.

What is the best part about volunteering with our group? The moment when you find the exact book that an inmate has requested in her letter. Double points if it’s a hard-to-find title or subject, or a popular author that usually flies off the shelves. Everyone shares in the excitement too. It’s a really rewarding experience.

What has been your single most enjoyable or rewarding experience? When CBWP was awarded the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation (May 2014). That was a proud moment, as it was the first time I had ever worked on a grant application and it paid off! Big moments like that are rewarding, as well as “smaller” moments—like when I decided to use my own money to purchase three books for a woman who had requested books about welding and underwater welding (a topic we would most likely never receive via donated books). I picked out three books online about welding that seemed like they would be helpful (but who was I to know? I was choosing somewhat blindly, not knowing anything about welding) and she wrote back and was very grateful for the books, and said that she had tried writing to three other organizations to get materials on welding and no one else had answered her request. It was rewarding knowing that she now had the books she wanted, and sobering to note the relative ease with which I was able to access and purchase these books at my choosing.

How has your experience with CBWP influenced you the most? I am even more acutely aware now of what a privilege easy access to reading materials can be. Though I personally do not believe that books should be classified as a privilege to be rescinded, but rather, as a right and a necessity, it is clear from reading the letters from the women we serve that both the act of reading and reading materials themselves are often viewed in the prison system as something to be restricted and policed.

How has volunteering influenced your perspective on prison issues? Volunteering with CBWP has definitely heightened my awareness of the need for prison reform. It’s impossible to read these letters every Sunday and for it to not have some sort of impact on you as the reader.

What has surprised you most about volunteering? I have been surprised at what a difference it makes to be doing something you love, even if it’s not “paid work” and is only “volunteering”. Getting a taste of this at CBWP has made me rethink what I am looking for in a satisfying career. I hope to get more involved in prison literacy and/or prison reform when I move back home to California.

What might someone who knows you only at CBWP be surprised to learn about you? I am related to the real-life Captain Morgan—he of spiced rum fame! He is a distant relative through my maternal grandfather’s side.

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