A schoolmate and I recently interviewed Suzanne for an Anthropology project. Here is an excerpt from the current version of the paper that includes some of the interview:
Susannah of the Austin organization Inside Books, founded in 1998, says, “Right now, we are not confident about our government doing this.”
‘This’ refers to the particular service of Inside Books – providing inmates of the Texas prison system with books. This service “[works] outside of the state system and [attempts] to offer both access to information they don’t have and things that would help them outside. It respects their agency. It helps bring them out of an undignified and unempowered place.”
The prisoners request the books they receive, although the center does not have the resources to fill every order exactly. Sometimes the program does not have enough funds to mail their packages. However, Susannah still feels it would be more work to lobby within the system. “A lot of prison libraries use a punishment-reward system,” she says. “These books become the prisoner’s personal property.”
As the system is now, the libraries must work on a punishment-reward system. The prison cannot be seen as rewarding bad behavior because it decreases the deterrent effect. An outside agency, on the other hand, can provide a service that both reminds the inmates of their humanity and offers them something to do with their spare time. Susannah told her interviewers, “I honestly think that reading an entertaining novel and keeping your mind active, getting pleasure from it, affects a person on all levels.”
This program, unlike many currently offered by the system, is both effective and low cost. Part of the reason for the success is that these prisoners are those that attempt to better themselves even without the aid of rehabilitative programs. “Self-betterment is what people see as the kernel of what we do,” explained Susannah. “It does seem clear that there’s a need and we’re meeting it. What we’re doing is damage control. We’re looking for a radical change in the way communities are organized and more preventative things. We’re here to educate people about prison issues and bring it to the public.”
Obviously, the excerpt is somewhat colored by the paper we're writing. (Strangely, our assigned bias is conservative, but the very liberal Susannah's quotes gave us some wonderful material that worked with our proposed solution.)
I agreed with many things she had to say and wanted to help the program. This link will tell you about what kind of books the program needs most and where to send them. The project also accepts monetary donations. These donations are used for postage only. On their site they also have suggestions for things Out-of-Townies can do to help. You can also search the internet for a local program, if you don't live in Texas.
No pressure though. I think it's a wonderful charity, but I don't want to make anyone feel obligated. I just wanted to bring some more attention to Inside Books.