“When Books Through Bars initiated its correspondence course, I immediately volunteered my services because it was just what many prisoners are looking for: an educational program that not only educates us, but also empowers us and connects us with the outside. It also allows prisoners who would otherwise be idle within the prison the opportunity to use their time constructively. The courses are designed not only to educate but to invoke critical thinking in the hopes that the participants in the course will emerge from it with a new outlook on their lives and their present situation, believing that they can change not only themselves but also their circumstances.”
—Robert Saleem Holbrook, politicized prisoner and human rights activist, Address This! co-founder, and co-creator of the upcoming Youth Empowerment course.
Address This! is an education and empowerment project. It provides innovative correspondence courses to individuals incarcerated in Pennsylvania, with a special focus on the participation of prisoners in solitary confinement or maximum security, who often have little access to educational options.
Each course is intended to foster dialogue, promote collective critical thinking and reading skills, raise awareness, encourage self-empowerment, and provide an outlet for stimulating discussion on issues of importance to all of our lives. Over the course of six months, participants receive monthly reading packets and related discussion questions to that they provide responses to. Classes currently offered include:
- Black Social Movements from Civil Rights to Hip Hop
- Putting the “Us” Back in Justice: Alternatives to Police, Courts, and Prisons
- Latino History, Culture, and Contemporary Issues
- Control & Resistance: the U.S. Prison System and Its Oppositions
- Art and Social Movements
The classes were developed with the help of community organizations, activists, and scholars with expertise in the respective area. An additional class focusing on youth leadership and empowerment is currently being designed in conjunction with incarcerated individuals who are mentors, educators, and activists inside prison walls.
Mission & Goals
- Address This! and its classes is not a traditional credit-granting program. Instead, each course presents a unique opportunity for its participants to discover their own ideas while thinking about the assigned texts in concert with one another.
- The classes are specifically designed to enable the participation of those housed in PA’s Maximum Security and SHU units, as well as those in Minimum and Medium Security facilities.
- Address This! takes the prospect of education as a means to both individual and collective development and empowerment seriously. Each of us has things we want to “unlearn” in addition to what we want to learn. Areas of “unlearning” might include racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of societal dominance. We hope that participants in this project will enter with the spirit of openness and generosity that will make these labors possible.
- The program seeks to contribute to larger efforts to interrupt and alter the isolation and monotony that often dominates the prison environment.
Feedback from Address This! participants
“Prisoners are, for the most part, looking for an education that will help them to find an identity. Address This! provides that and more…educational material that acts as a history lesson, a primer on civil discourse and a vehicle for an empowered future.”
“[The course] was informative and mentally stimulating and I look forward to the next assignments. I didn’t know the civil rights movements dated back to the ’40s, nor did I know the role Black Leftists played in the early stages of that movement. Continue the good work and the struggle.”
“Thank you for reaching out to us and letting us be part of this project. As prisoners our free time is being used in a positive manner and also keeps us in touch with the outside world and opens our minds to women who are in the same situation as us and lets us hear their opinions about the subjects we are reading about.”
“I want to thank you and the rest of your staff there for taking the time to reach out or should I say reach ‘in’ to those of us locked up and educating us. The knowledge you send is very beneficial and I am greatly pleased to be a part of this building process. Not only are you sharing knowledge with me, you make my stay in prison easier and more meaningful.”