Giving back: Prisoners at SCI Forest donate $1,000 to BTB

In October 2013, Books Through Bars received an incredible and unexpected gift: a $1,000 donation from a group of prisoners at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Forest in Marienville, PA.

A wall-sized check from the prisoners at SCI Forest to hang in our office. The real check is being put to good use!
A wall-sized check from the prisoners at SCI Forest to hang in our office. The real check is being put to good use!

How did this happen? An internal, prisoner-run committee called Hope For Change spent a year organizing a sport-a-thon to raise money for good causes. As part of the process they polled fellow prisoners for possible organizations to donate to, and Books Through Bars was one of three finalists chosen. So many prisoners had received books from us that they wanted to give something back!

Sacrificing time, money for a greater good

Three BTB volunteers drove for eleven hours to SCI Forest to accept the check in person. They met with Kenneth and John, two of the organizers and members of Hope For Change’s board. They explained that the sport-a-thon called for a $5 fee to compete in a series of sports tournaments: track, basketball, and other sports. The event was announced to prisoners months in advance so participants could save to pay the fee. Prison jobs pay in cents, not dollars, per hour, so even a $5 donation is a big sacrifice for most prisoners. A “bake sale” was also organized, with prisoners selling soda and sweets to raise additional funds.

Members of Hope for Change spent hundreds of hours working with prison officials to plan and get everything in place—a complicated task in a high-security facility. In the end, over 300 people participated in the highly successful event, which also raised money for a local firehouse and a free clinic at a Pittsburgh hospital that provides care to many prisoners’ families.

During our visit, Kenneth and John repeatedly expressed gratitude on behalf of their fellow prisoners for the books they all have received from us. They were also excited to hear about BTB’s other programs, which they felt were exactly the kinds of programs that prisoners and the public would benefit from. Finally, they were amazed that we are an all-volunteer organization, and that there are thousands of people “on the outside” who care so much about prisoner education and issues of mass incarceration. They said it would make a genuine difference for prisoners to hear this, and it confirmed that Hope For Change had made the right choice in selecting Books Through Bars to receive the donation.

An inspiration to give and do more

In its twenty-three year history, BTB has never had a donation quite like this one. The gift was a complete surprise and touched us all. It is an affirmation of the important work BTB does.

From organizing the sport-a-thon to contributing hard-earned wages, we can’t emphasize enough what a sacrifice it is for incarcerated persons to give so generously. We hope their efforts will inspire you to give as well. Recently, we received a generous donation from a supporter who heard about this story and was inspired to more than double his previous contribution!

Please donate today: online, by mail or in person. We also welcome your gift of books or time.