Chicago Premiere of a New Documentary—Sat., October 22


Saturday, October 22, 2–4 pm
Frederick A. Douglass Branch Library
3353 W. 13th St., Chicago (map)

The expression “sent up the river” was coined by individuals who were sent up the Hudson River to do their time at the infamous Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. FIRST DEGREE finds hope in this seemingly hopeless place by exploring an unusual prison education program that appears to keep Sing Sing inmates from being sent back up the river after their release. Nationwide, over half of released inmates return to prison within five years, but for the past 14 years, less than 1% of the inmates who earned their college degrees at Sing Sing returned to prison.

The screening of the half-hour documentary will be followed by a panel discussion, featuring:

  • Eddie Bocanegra, executive director of the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative and a pioneer of many community-based programs including LuchARTE, Grupo Consuelo and Urban Warriors
  • DeWitt Scott, administrator at Moraine Valley Community College, instructor at St. Leonard’s Adult High School and volunteer instructor at Cook County Jail (also a volunteer with Chicago Books to Women in Prison)
  • Augie Torres, graduate of the Education Justice Project at Danville Correctional Center

Free of charge and open to the public—all ages welcome
Light refreshments served

Transportation tips:
Driving? You’ll find street parking near the library.
CTA? Take the #12 Roosevelt bus to Homan Ave. and walk two blocks south. Or take the Blue Line to the Kedzie-Homan station and walk eight blocks south, or take the #52 Kedzie/California bus to W. 13th St., then walk about five minutes

Also see our Facebook event page.

Poetry from the Inside—Weds., September 28

Poetry Center Free Write collage.jpg

Join us with the Poetry Center of Chicago and Free Write Jail Arts & Literacy for:

Poetry from the Inside:
A Collaborative Reading and Book Drive

Wednesday, September 28, 7–9 pm
Chicago Art Department
1932 S Halsted St., Suite 100 (map)

There will be a reading from several of Free Write’s former students who were previously incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

The incarcerated women we serve send us many poems, and we’re delighted that acclaimed poets Hannah Gamble and Erika L. Sánchez will read a few this evening: Continue reading ‘Poetry from the Inside—Weds., September 28’

Now a Member of the Chicago Literacy Alliance

CLAWe’ve joined the Chicago Literacy Alliance, an association of more than 90 organizations helping to meet literacy needs for people of all ages and backgrounds.

At Chicago Books to Women in Prison, literacy is the core of what we do. For starters, only about 40% of people in prison have a high school diploma, so the books we send are critical in improving this vital skill. In addition, many women tell us that they hadn’t cared much about reading before prison, but now love it. Many mothers tell us that now they encourage their children to read.

The women we serve also tell us that the books we send enable them to earn a GED or reach another educational goal, improve parenting skills, enhance self-esteem, learn new skills, discover new talents and more—including simply to escape for a while from their oppressive environment. Through books we help incarcerated women improve the quality of their lives, understand their rights and enhance the everyday culture of their institutions. Importantly, it also helps them improve their chances for a successful life after leaving prison.

As part of the Chicago Literacy Alliance, we’re looking forward to opportunities to:
  • Educate other member organizations—including but not limited to those that work with incarcerated people—about the need for our work and the difference we make
  • Network with members to share ideas about outreach, capacity-building, fundraising and other common concerns
  • Collaborate on public activities with member organizations on issues and themes that connect us

We’re delighted to be a member! Learn more about the Chicago Literacy Alliance.

Laughs Unlocked benefit show—Tues., April 5

Laughs Unlocked banner

Prison is no laughing matter—but we’ll make an exception this time because some of the best improvisors in Chicago are throwing us a benefit!

In this two-act show they’ll create scenes based on stories from Dionna Griffin-Irons. Griffin-Irons, who was formerly incarcerated, is a writer, alumna of Second City, and current Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the legendary comedy theatre. Continue reading ‘Laughs Unlocked benefit show—Tues., April 5’

Book Event with Maya Schenwar & Crystal Laura—Mon., March 7 in Evanston

prison reform

We’re proud to co-sponsor this event with Cabrini Green Legal Aid—in particular our friends at CLAIM, a program of CGLA.

Come join authors Maya Schenwar and Crystal T. Laura as they explore the impact of prison on their families and advocate for sweeping change to the criminal justice system. Schenwar will share her recent book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, and Laura will discuss her book Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Continue reading ‘Book Event with Maya Schenwar & Crystal Laura—Mon., March 7 in Evanston’

Gift from the DaVita Way of Giving


Left to right: Carmen Berry, Facility Administrator; Bonnie Plude, Dietitian; Valerie Cox, Administrative Assistant; Vicki White and Betsy Nore, CBWP; Tanya DePeiza, Social Worker; and Aona Anderson, RN

Recently we were honored with a gift of $1,000 from the DaVita Dialysis Center in Country Club Hills, Illinois. DaVita Healthcare Partners, Inc. is a leading provider of kidney care services. Through the annual DaVita Way of Giving, DaVita clinical facilities across the country are empowered to choose non-profit organizations in their communities to receive charitable contributions.

We receive hundreds of letters each month from incarcerated women requesting books and blank journals. As word spreads and the need continues to grow, the volume of letters increases too. This generous donation will let us mail hundreds of more packages of books and blank journals more quickly.

Thank you to everyone at DaVita on behalf of the women we serve.

Join Us for a Benefit Dinner—Tuesday, January 19

EatsSweetslogoUpdated January 15: SOLD OUT!

Our friends at Eats & Sweets Cafe are celebrating Dolly Parton’s 70th birthday with a fundraiser for us. Dolly is well known for her literacy program Imagination Library, and Eats & Sweets owners Tim and Margaret wanted to support an organization that works to improve literacy. We’re delighted to be honored in this way—all the more as Eats & Sweets is right in the neighborhood and their food is delicious.

There will also be a book drive the week before, as well as a photo booth and raffle at the dinner. Reservations are required and costumes are optional. Learn more and make your reservation today. We look forward to seeing you there! Continue reading ‘Join Us for a Benefit Dinner—Tuesday, January 19’

Goodbye, 2015—Hello, 2016


Amy K. feels the same way we do.

Last year we mailed 3,086 packages of books—9,200 or so books in all—and 361 blank journals. That’s 19% more than in 2014! We reached nearly 2,500 individual women in 53 prisons, including the largest women’s prison in the country and several men’s prisons where transwomen are incarcerated.

We’re impressed ourselves. But we want to share the credit.

As always, our 100% volunteer team works constantly to seek new resources and improve our processes so we can do more.

This year, for example, we received a Crossroads Fund Seed Fund grant. We implemented a database to track mailings, collect data and better manage our backlog. And we took an important step in obtaining our 501(c)(3) IRS determination as a public charity.

But we couldn’t have done any of this without friends who helped in many ways, including:

  • Donating money for postage and rent (postage is about 82% of our total budget and rising as we aim to serve even more women)
  • Mailing or dropping off books and blank journals
  • Purchasing special requests from our Amazon Wish List
  • Attending one of our three community events


    Crystal Laura, author of Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, at Women & Children First in March; Colette Payne of CLAIM (Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers) at After-Words Books in September.

And we’re grateful for our community, including everyone who follows us on:

  • Facebook (50% more followers than last year)
  • Twitter (65% more followers)
  • Our blog (subscribe at the top right) and website (88% more visitors)

Please keep up with us in 2016 as we provide more women with the self-empowerment, education and entertainment that reading provides. People in prison  have little or no access to books. So as long as there is the need, we’re committed to providing the pleasure and power of books.

CBWP Visits a Class on OITNB

searchEarly this month we were invited to North Central College to visit the class Orange is the New Black: The Sociopolitical Realities of Women’s Incarceration Experiences. Taught by Dr. Stephen Maynard Caliendo and Dr. Jennifer Keys, and grounded in a wide range of research on incarceration, this unique course explores a number of complex themes that have come up in the show. In particular, it “critically examines the inner workings of the prison industrial complex and the ways in which it controls and regulates inmates’ daily lives.”

An issue that affects incarcerated women every day is the freedom to read. Or lack thereof. One of our volunteers discussed with the class how we help meet the need and desire for books of all kinds (as well as blank journals) when there is little or no access to a variety of current reading material. It was a pleasure to share our work—including what women tell us about the importance of books, the most popular genres and other insights about what matters to the women we serve, and the challenges we face—with this thoughtful, engaged group.


Chicago friends: Would your class, church or community organization like a guest speaker from Chicago Books to Women in Prison? Just write us at

Celebrate #GivingTuesday with a gift!


So far this year we’ve mailed 3,000 packages of books and blank journals—already more than last year’s total!—with a month to go in 2015. 

As our reach grows, so does the number of requests for books. Right now more than 500 letters are waiting for a response.

We want to get as many books as possible in the hands of incarcerated women before the end of the year. We have the books, we have the volunteers—we’re limited only by postage costs and our budget. 

Please help on this global day of giving back … or any day. Every $10 donated will allow us to mail three more packages! 

Simply click the PayPal button at the right. Or mail a check to Chicago Books to Women in Prison, 4511 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago IL 60640.

Thank you on behalf of the women we serve!

3,229 packages so far in 2016

That's 2,725 packages of books and 504 blank journals in the mail—and counting. Thanks to all our supporters! (updated October 24, 2016)

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We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your donation may be tax-deductible.

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Learn what we're looking for now (updated October 24, 2016)

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