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  • Writer's picture Denise-Marie Martin

Books for Prisoners

“He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners." (NRSV Isaiah 61:1b)

Reading books has always been my favorite escape. Problems and their resultant stresses melted away with the solid feel of a book in my hands, coupled with a few stolen moments of delicious quietude. I happily traded my small world for the author’s bigger world, inviting his/her characters to take over every thought not thoroughly claimed by school, work, or family. I still mourn the completion of a good novel, saying goodbye to new friends as I turn the book’s last page.

Drama aside, books allowed me to “see” places that would have been otherwise impossible and planted seeds for dreams of a better life. Books were my wings, freedom from disappointments, and windows into perceived opportunities. Books helped me develop empathy for others and a perspective on many situations.

Books were my wings, freedom from disappointments, and windows into perceived opportunities.

Books can inspire hope and encouragement—which my novel, Tangled Violets: A Novel of Redemption, attempts to do. As of yesterday, fifty copies are en route to organizations that make books available to incarcerated individuals in five states, primarily in women’s prisons. Like my protagonist Lizzie Schmidt, imprisoned women have made big mistakes, often having waded through difficult circumstances before encountering the judicial system. Amongst the mess, sin, and brokenness of life, there is ALWAYS a path back to forgiveness, healing, and wholeness ... but it may not be easy.

Try googling “Books to Prisoners Programs.” You will find websites for organizations in the US (by state), Canada, and Great Britain that serve this noble mission. Many organizations have specific wish lists, and many do not take fiction. If you feel inspired to donate physical books, I recommend sending an email first to verify the acceptability of your donation and the mailing address. It is relatively inexpensive to ship books via media mail.

In Catholic culture, we speak of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One corporal work of mercy is to visit the imprisoned. I think of donating books as an indirect way to do this.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." (ESV, Mt 25:35-36).

Consider the impact of books on the short life of Jacques Fesch. On February 24, 1954, at the age of 24, he murdered a French police officer in a robbery that went from bad to disastrous. During the three and a half years of his imprisonment for murder, before his execution on October 1, 1957, Fesch experienced a major spiritual transformation. He read two books (spiritual biographies) that influenced him greatly. The letters he wrote from his cell to his family have been published in a book and serve as a brilliant example of redemption, Light over the Scaffold and Cell 18: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch.

Books matter!

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