> Books

Please read this page before shipping or dropping off books.

We’re overflowing with books now!  This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t want what you have to offer, but please check with us first if what you want to donate isn’t listed below.  

We get many requests for certain kinds of books that are rarely donated. Please take a look on your bookshelves (or go through those boxes in the basement). You may find books you don’t really want anymore, but which we could put to good use. Or buy one (or more) for us the next time you shop for books!

Please bookmark this page on your smartphone for easy reference.

Books should be in very good condition, as we aim to send the best quality possible to the women we serve. New or nearly new books are especially appreciated as some prisons require them. Books do not have to be new as long as they look new—that is, completely clean and unwarped pages, unbroken spine, clean page edges, no dogeared pages, etc. Advance reader copies (ARCs) are welcome!

We always need more of the following paperback books, especially those in blue. In general, we can only use books that are 10 years old or less. 

  • Urban and other contemporary African-American fiction
  • True crime
  • Wicca
  • Large print fiction and nonfiction
  • Transgender fiction and nonfiction
  • Bisexual fiction and nonfiction
  • Lesbian fiction and nonfiction
  • Native American fiction and nonfiction
  • Dictionaries—mainly English, but also English-Spanish and other languages, as well as Bible, Scrabble and crossword puzzle dictionaries
  • Crafts (such as crochet, beading, cardmaking and other papercrafts)
  • Drawing, painting and calligraphy
  • Puzzle books, especially Sudoku, word searches, crosswords and fill-ins
  • Recovery and addiction (general and specific substances, practical guidance and memoirs)
  • Mental health, especially depression, anxiety and trauma/PTSD
  • Legal books appropriate to the needs of the women we serve—jailhouse lawyer manuals, criminal law, criminal and civil procedure, post-conviction remedies, habeas corpus relief, pro se representation, rules of evidence, family law, legal research, legal writing, law dictionaries (please ask if you have others you think we could use)
  • Study Bibles
  • Language learning—mainly Spanish, but many others too, including American Sign Language (beginners’ and self-study books are especially useful)
  • Career/job overviews and training—from food truck owner to physical therapist, chances are we’ll need a book on it soon
  • Nursing
  • Cosmetology
  • Astrology
  • Dream dictionaries
  • Yoga
  • Exercise that doesn’t require equipment
  • Starting and running a business
  • Bible dictionaries
  • Books in Spanish—fiction and non-fiction
  • Books by and for prisoners and former prisoners
  • Prison life and prison issues
  • Reentry and life after prison
  • Parenting—especially in prison or from a distance
  • Meditation
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Daily affirmations
  • Math (elementary school and above) and science (high school and above)
  • Trade skills (plumbing, HVAC, etc.)

We also accept lightweight composition books with bendable cardboard covers (no hard or plastic covers), no metal, spiral or string binding. Colorful and patterned covers are a plus. (These cannot be shipped by Media Mail.)

Other important information:

  • In general, we do not need most fiction or nonfiction in English, other than what is on the list above. This is because we receive a continuous supply of all kinds of books throughout the year. But please feel free to check with us as you may have some wildly popular or hard-to-find authors—or simply subject matter we happen to be low on.
  • Our storage space is extremely limited. Please keep in mind that when books are donated that we can’t use, we must find somewhere to donate them in turn (or recycle them if they’re simply too old or in poor condition). If you’re not sure based on the information above whether we can use your books, please ask first.
  • We can only send paperback books to prisons, but sometimes we accept hardcover books (along with miscellaneous printed matter such as sheet music and Tarot cards). We trade them for books we can use or sell them to raise money for postage—by far our biggest expense. Please email us with the titles and condition of the hardcover books you’d like to donate or send a photo/photos. (We cannot accept books with any highlighting or writing inside.) We will let you know soon if we can use your hardcover books.
  • We cannot use textbooks more than five years old, magazines, DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, cassettes and laminated sheets.
  • A tax-donation receipt is available upon request.

You may drop off your books 2–4 pm any Saturday or Sunday. We’re located at 4511 N. Hermitage Ave. (Hermitage and Sunnyside). We’re only two blocks from the Montrose Brown Line stop. There is also plenty of free street parking and a loading zone in front.

If you would like to mail books, please send by USPS at the Media Mail rate to:

Chicago Books to Women in Prison c/o RFUMC
4511 N. Hermitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640

Questions? Want to make a large donation—that is, more than a bag or box of books? Need to make special arrangements for getting your books to us? Ask us first (and ask us anything) at chicagobwp@gmail.com.

> Money

Our all-volunteer organization welcomes financial contributions of any amount. In addition to about $1,400 in postage each month, we also pay rent and have frequent expenses for supplies and equipment. We accept donations by PayPal—use the button on the right—or you may mail a check or money order to the address at the bottom of the page.

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and our EIN is 45-5271700. All or part of your gift may be tax-deductible as a charitable contribution. Please check with your tax adviser.

> Supplies

We also welcome donations of postage stamps, 9″ x 12″ non-padded manila envelopes without metal clasps (for sending blank journals) and 2″-wide clear packing tape. (These cannot be included in packages shipped by Media Mail.)

We ship bulk to a number of prisons—that is, we pack several book orders in one carton. This saves on postage, but it means we always need sturdy corrugated shipping boxes. A good size is approximately 16″ x 12″ x 12″ or smaller. Boxes should be in good condition and flattened; they can have logos or old shipping marks.

We do not need brown paper grocery bags, which we used to use for packaging book orders.


200 packages in the first two weeks of 2018!

That’s 186 packages of books and 14 blank journals to women across the country. In 2017 we sent 4,690 packages (4,086 packages of books and 604 blank journals). Thanks to all our supporters. (updated January 15, 2017)

Donate quickly and easily

Or send your check or money order to 4511 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60640. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your gift may be tax-deductible.

Help us get the most wanted books!

Learn what we’re looking for now (updated September 10, 2017)

• Shop our wish list at Bookends & Beginnings, a great independent bookstore

• Shop our Amazon wish list (feel free to buy from the list at other stores)

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