“I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading has opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.” ― Malcolm X
Helping others become mentally alive is Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners’ mission. It’s a 100 percent volunteer-run 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to encouraging literacy and supporting incarcerated people by providing access to books and print resources. In 2019, it shipped 5,700 books to women locked up nationwide and men serving time in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
“When a person gets locked up, their loved ones can’t just mail them books,” says Kelli Gann, a volunteer with Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners. “All reading material must come through approved vendors like book stores. Prison libraries are often sparse, and many times guards will prevent prisoners from accessing the libraries. If someone wants to read, they have to buy books from the prison commissary or order them from an outside organization.”
To help ensure that people can get reading material for free is one of the reasons Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners exists.
“We stock our shelves with book donations from people on the outside,” Gann says. “Folks on the inside write to us and tell us what they’d like to read. We mail them a package of books at no cost to them.”
Currently, the collective is functioning with five members. During non-COVID times, it has anywhere from 10 to 15 volunteers per week at its Sunday work nights.
“With the help of our community and the dedication of local volunteers, our library has grown to include thousands of donated books, allowing us to mail out hundreds of packages a year to prisoners,” says Gann.
The volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons.
“Some of us have loved ones who are or have been incarcerated,” says Gann.”Some of us have been incarcerated ourselves. Some of us are book nerds. Others are passionate about prison abolition or reforming the criminal justice system.”
A recipient recently thanked the organization saying, “Places like this can house our bodies but not our minds.”
Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners’ goals are to make prison life more endurable and facilitate a connection between people locked up on the inside and free people on the outside. We affirm the right to read and access information, without judging people or their requests. We have no political or religious agenda and welcome all who value our mission.
Mailing Address: 3157 Gentilly Blvd. #141, 70122
The organization informally partners with other prison books groups nationally by sharing resources and advice. They also partner with other local organizations at events and through networking.
Voices of the Incarcerated (VOTE)
The First 72+
Daughters Beyond Incarceration
Nola 2 Angola
Promise of Justice Initiative
How You Can Help:
Readers can help by donating postage funds at (lap2p.org). Each package of books costs between $3 – 5 to ship. Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners gets an average of 30 letters each week from prisoners wanting books. Currently, due to COVID concerns, the organization is not accepting donated books.
Gann suggests another way to help is to learn more about the history of the prison industrial complex in our country. She recommends reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michele Alexander, watching the documentary, “13th” on Netflix or donating to the bail fund, “New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund.”