Archive for the 'News' Category

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.

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’

Thank You, Crossroads Fund

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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.

Mother’s Day Art and Card Making Event for Incarcerated Mothers—Thurs., April 23

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Bring your creativity and caring! We’ll be making cards and art to send to mothers who are incarcerated in Illinois jails and prisons as well as Federal prisons. (Did you know that two-thirds of the women incarcerated in the U.S. are mothers of minor children?) Continue reading ‘Mother’s Day Art and Card Making Event for Incarcerated Mothers—Thurs., April 23′

Many thanks to Resurrection Lutheran Church

Thank you, Pastor Bill Hutchison and everyone at Resurrection Lutheran. We are proud to have been honored again with a Mission Endowment Fund grant. This year we were awarded $800, which has been earmarked for sending blank journals.

Along with book orders, we receive many requests for blank journals. The women we serve need them to:

  • Keep a journal for reflection and therapy
  • Work on assignments for a class or self-directed study
  • Write poems, short stories and novels
  • Record their lives for children and grandchildren
  • Practice calligraphy
  • Draw portraits, still lifes and fashion designs
  • Draft small-business plans

Continue reading ‘Many thanks to Resurrection Lutheran Church’

How Did We Do in 2014?

packedbookswowWe mailed 2,915 packages of books in this year that’s ending soon.

That’s about 8,700 books and a few dozen blank journals.

Nearly 30% more than in 2013!

How did we do it? This past year we improved some key processes. And we welcomed new volunteers with energy and ideas to our small but mighty team.

Continue reading ‘How Did We Do in 2014?’

Holiday Donation Drive for Women in Cook County Jail

Please support this initiative by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer. Your thoughtfulness will help women in difficult circumstances during the holidays and beyond.

Continue reading ‘Holiday Donation Drive for Women in Cook County Jail’

Maya Schenwar’s book, “Locked Down, Locked Out”, is out today!

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We’re delighted to share this message from Maya, a good friend of Chicago Books to Women in Prison:

Hope you are all having a wonderful fall. As many of you know, for the last couple of years, I have been writing a book. And now, bizarrely, it actually exists! It’s called Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, and it is out TODAY (coincidentally, my birthday)!

If you buy it today or anytime during the coming week, I’ll be donating my royalties to Marissa Alexander’s Legal Defense Fund. (Marissa is a Florida survivor of domestic violence who is facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at the wall, to defend herself against her abusive husband.)

So, I have a couple of birthday wishes. I’m hoping you can take these steps, in exchange for my undying love and admiration, which you already have, but still:

1. Buy the book!

You can do that here: amazon.com/Locked-Down-Out-Prison-Doesnt/dp/1626562695
Or here: powells.com/biblio/9781626562691
Or here: womenandchildrenfirst.com/book/9781626562691

Continue reading ‘Maya Schenwar’s book, “Locked Down, Locked Out”, is out today!’


1,723 packages so far in 2017!

That's 1,513 packages of books and 210 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 April 23, 2017)

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