Portland, OR. Within walking distance of Portland Community College’s Cascade campus off of Killingsworth Ave, you may come across a sidewalk decorated with raised fists, demands for justice, and more. This sits just outside of the Dismantle, Change, Build Center (DCBC) where nonprofits such as Don’t Shoot Portland operate. If you happen upon this location on a Tuesday afternoon, you may find a beautifully painted sign letting passerby’s know that Books to Prisoners is in session.

The Dismantle, Change, Build Center (DCBC); used by multiple justice-oriented nonprofits.

Based out of Seattle since the 1970s, Books to Prisoners collects donated literary materials and sends those to incarcerated folks across the U.S. on their own dime. The Portland branch operates on volunteer time once per week for a couple of hours. During this time, they sort through donated books, deciding which can be resold to fund the operation’s expenses, which could go to a “free” box sitting outside for anyone who happens by and needs a new read, and which can be saved with the intent of mailing it to an imprisoned individual.

Donated books are organized by genre in order to better accommodate prisoner requests.

Anyone imprisoned can request a book to be mailed to them through the Books to Prisoners operation (with personalized letters, art, and more often accompanying that request). These requests are double-checked in order to make sure that the books will still be received by those behind bars. They will then be hand-wrapped by volunteers in preparation for delivery and shipping. Many of these volunteers are people who’ve either been locked behind State walls or who’ve had loved ones there.

Volunteers take a couple of hours out of their week to wrap books in preparation for shipping, offering invaluable resources for the organization that runs purely off of donated time and funds.

Portland’s Books to Prisoners continues to do great things despite a global pandemic and civil unrest. The nonprofit is always looking for new faces to volunteer their time, as this is the most valuable asset to their operation.

About Books to Prisoners:

If you’re interested in donating to their cause, you can do so here. If you want to see what they’re doing these days, you can check out their Facebook page here. If you’re interested in volunteering, you can find all the information you need here.