Two plus one equals…

Our 20th anniversary commemorative poster, designed by artist Erik Ruin.
Our 20th anniversary commemorative poster, designed by artist Erik Ruin.

Books Through Bars began in 1990  with two people and one letter.

Todd was an employee at New Society Publishers (a small press then located in Philadelphia). He was given a letter that a prisoner had sent to NSP, asking for free copies of overstock or damaged books. He responded to that letter writer with a few free books. Then a few more requests came in. Todd got into the habit of setting aside damaged books, overruns, and unsold copies to send to those who wrote. After he began to get dozens of requests a week, Todd got some friends and coworkers to help, and advertised the program in some publications for prisoners. Word spread, donated books began to come in, and the fledgeling group  secured room in the A-Space, a collective meeting place and community center in West Philadelphia. From there, the project grew into…


Over two decades later, Books Through Bars is thousands of people united in one mission:

  • Thousands of incarcerated people who write to us to ask for books (and share their stories, give suggestions, and even participate in the development our programs)
  • Hundreds of volunteers who read the letters, choose books, send out packages, and keep Books Through Bars running as an organization
  • Hundreds of people who donate the books, materials and money needed to make it all happen.

Today, Books Through Bars is an all-volunteer 501c3 nonprofit, still headquartered in the A-Space in West Philadelphia. It is formally organized as a collective, which means that a core group of members make decisions about the organization and its activities on a consensus-driven, egalitarian basis. In addition to the collective, Books Through Bars accomplishes its mission through the hard work and dedication of our volunteers and donors.

In 2010, we celebrated our 20th anniversary!