For incarcerated individuals, books provide one of the few windows into the outside world. Whether for entertainment or for education, jail libraries and those who work within them provide a lifeline. When beloved volunteer jail librarian Janet Gaye Wong was injured in a horse riding accident, her colleagues applied for an Act of Kindness grant from Random Acts to donate new library books in her honor!
“How Does One Survive Without Books?”
Books to Prisoners provides books for incarcerated people at jails in Illinois, both by mail and by supplying two county jail libraries. As supporter Elizabeth Abraham explained in her application, there is a high turnover rate for books in the jail library. Only paperback books can be stocked for security reasons. Paperbacks, especially popular titles that are borrowed frequently, are not sturdy enough to keep up with the demand and must be replaced often.
“Many incarcerated people write to say how they learned to read in prison and how the only letters they get are our filled book orders. How lonely they are and forgotten. But then, they have a book. Gaye feels like that as well, we all do. How does one survive without books?” — Elizabeth Abraham
The Illinois Department of Corrections does not have the budget to buy books for prison libraries, with a steep drop-off in funding in recent years. COVID-19 also left its mark on jail and prison libraries nationwide. Social distance requirements led to recreational spaces being closed. Unfortunately, that included the libraries. This meant that incarcerated individuals lost their only access to books and the escape they provided. The work of volunteers like Gaye, Elizabeth, and their colleagues is vital to making sure incarcerated people maintain their access to resources. Libraries can brighten their days and change their futures.
Supporting a Friend
When Gaye was injured, Elizabeth and her fellow volunteers felt helpless. Gaye had plenty of family and friends to help her on the road to recovery. But as Elizabeth notes, “What else can we do? Getting select books for the jail library fit perfectly. Gaye was as frustrated as we all were when we didn’t have the donated books readers were asking for.” After Elizabeth and her fellow volunteers discovered Random Acts’ Kindness Grant application page, they applied for a grant to purchase a few of the books from their long request list.
The administration at the jail where Gaye volunteers matched the grant from Random Acts when it was approved. Even more books were purchased from the wish list! While Elizabeth and her colleagues typically scout garage sales, Goodwill, and public library sales to find in-demand titles, she was able to purchase new books with the Kindness Grant. A group of volunteers then gathered to prepare the books to enter the library circulation, adding protective tape and stickers.
Hard Work and Healing
In the end, the combination of the grant from Random Acts and the matching donation from the jail administration resulted in many highly requested titles making their way to incarcerated individuals. The new books arrived just in time for the holiday season in 2021, adding joy for the incarcerated people reading them. It also provided happiness for Gaye as she recovered from her injuries. She learned to walk again through tireless therapy and work.
“With hard work, there is healing. I think it is true of minds and lives as well. It is hard but with support (and books?) people come out of the dark tunnel renewed.” — Elizabeth Abraham
How To Help
Do you have an idea for a project to help your local community? Random Acts wants to help you achieve your goals! Our Regional Representatives located around the world are ready to assist you with our application process for acts of kindness. If you want to volunteer with Random Acts, you can find our vacancies here!