Dismantling Barriers to Life—Sat., March 11

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Dismantling Barriers to Life:
A speak out on mass incarceration

Saturday, March 11, 12:30–4 pm
First Baptist Congregational
1613 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago (map)

Hear from people directly affected by incarceration, share ideas for action and more at this community event hosted by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal SocietyGrowing HomePrecious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, StoryCorps and the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois.

Colette Payne (Cabrini Green Legal Aid) and Marlon Chamberlain (Community Renewal Society) will emcee.

Highlights include:

  • Audio stories recorded in partnership with StoryCorps
  • Panel discussion on “Barriers to Life”
  • Peace Circles facilitated by Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation
  • Opportunity to share and connect with advocacy organizations

We’ll be tabling before (12:30–1 pm) and after the event (4–4:30 pm). In addition to Chicago Books to Women in Prison, you can meet Chicago Community Bond FundChicago Freedom SchoolChicago League of Abolitionist WhitesFree Write Arts & LiteracyJane Addams Resource CorporationLiberation Library and Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project.

Free of charge and open to the public
Light refreshments served

RSVP here. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.
Accessibility questions? Email StoryCorps.

Human Trafficking in Women’s Prisons

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UPDATE: Since posting the article below, we’ve learned of a bust of three human traffickers who preyed on women at Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida. It’s the largest women’s prison in the United States and we send books to hundreds of women there every year. Here are two news stories on this human-trafficking operation, which underscore the reality of the problem:

Sex slavers arrested in Orlando for trafficking women from prison, MBI says
Orlando police: Men used newly released LCI prisoners as prostitutes

Guest post by John Meekins*

I had been a corrections officer for several years at one of the largest female prisons in the United States when in 2012 I attended a two-day conference on human trafficking. That was where I realized that human trafficking is a real issue for the inmates at the prison where I work.

Continue reading ‘Human Trafficking in Women’s Prisons’

Looking Back and Looking Forward

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Another way of looking at it: In 2016 we mailed about this many books each and every month.

Last year we mailed 3,901 packages of books and blank journals to women in prison around the country—9,700 or so books in all and 591 blank journals. That’s 13% more than in 2015.

On top of that, our 100% volunteer team worked hard to improve our processes, as well as educate others about the need we help to fill. Last year we:

  • Planned and conducted focus groups with women at Logan Correctional Center and Cook County Jail, thanks to funding by the Illinois Humanities Council and Crossroads Fund. We’re compiling and analyzing our findings now, so watch for our report early this year.
  • Added a quality control step to our process—ensuring that every book selected is the best match possible for a specific woman’s request.
  • Hosted the Chicago premiere of First Degree, a new documentary on prison education. Look for it on PBS this year.

But we couldn’t have done any of this without friends who helped in these and many other ways:

We appreciate everyone who joined us at any of our several community events, including:

  • The reading and discussion with Maya Schenwar and Crystal Laura at Evanston Public Library, in collaboration with CLAIM/Cabrini Green Legal Aid
  • Poetry from the Inside, a poetry reading—featuring poetry by nine of the women we serve—in collaboration with the Poetry Center of Chicago and Free Write Arts & Literacy
  • Tabling at Chicago Zine Fest, Printers Row Lit Fest and Ravenswood ArtWalk
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Maya Schenwar, author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, and Crystal Laura, author of Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, at Evanston Public Library in March.

And we’re grateful to everyone who attended one of our fundraising events:

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Thanks once again, Eats & Sweets and The Annoyance—and the talented performers at each event—for your generosity!

Finally, we really appreciate our online community, including everyone who follows us on Facebook (30% more followers than last year) and Twitter (53% more followers). We’ve connected with so many terrific people and organizations this way.

Please keep up with us as we aim to do even more in 2017. People in prison  have little or no access to books, and as long as there’s the need, we’re committed to providing the pleasure and power of books.

#GivingTuesday Isn’t Over

Today is #GivingTuesday and we’ve been promoting the purchase of the new 2017 GED review book. Whether you’re reading this at the end of the day or you’ve come across our page some time later, you can be sure that we can always need more GED review books.

Women tell us often how important it is that we’re able to provide this book. Many prisons offer classes or testing, but they don’t provide books—and not everyone even gets into a class. See what a few women told us:

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Continue reading ‘#GivingTuesday Isn’t Over’

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

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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.

Continue reading ‘Chicago Premiere of a New Documentary—Sat., October 22’

Poetry from the Inside—Weds., September 28

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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.

Continue reading ‘Now a Member of the Chicago Literacy Alliance’

Laughs Unlocked benefit show—Tues., April 5

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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

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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

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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.


1,275 packages so far in 2017!

That's 1,140 packages of books and 135 blank journals—and counting. In 2016 we sent 3,901 packages (3,310 packages of books and 591 blank journals). Many thanks to all our supporters! (updated March 23, 2017)

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