About

Olympia Books to Prisoners works to offset the dehumanizing effects of incarceration by sending quality used books free of charge to prisoners all over the United States.

We are entirely operated by volunteers, and our library is entirely stocked by donated books. We could not provide for what many inmates is a vital service without the support of our community.  The organization is managed by a small, non-hierarchical collective committed to consensus-based decision-making.  Somebody once referred to us as a bunch of radical librarians, and we were pretty pleased with that description.

Books to Prisoners was started in Seattle in the 1970’s when an inmate wrote to Left Bank Books, a radical bookstore in Pike Place, asking if they could please send him books on anarchism even though he didn’t have the money to pay for them.  Left Bank sent him some books, and he told some of his friends about it.  Soon the small shop was receiving more requests for free literature than it could feasibly fill, so the idea to solicit donation of books to send to inmates was born and evolved into Books to Prisoners, an organization that sends over 10,000 packages of books to incarcerated individuals across the US every year.

The Olympia chapter is one of four; the others are located in Seattle, Bellingham, and Portland.  We were founded in the early 1990’s when a community member named Long-Haired David visited the Seattle location.  He liked what he saw and wanted to know how best to help; they recommended starting a chapter in the South Sound.  In the past 22 years we have been located everywhere from storefronts to storage units, unfinished basements to our current swanky and sunny location on the Evergreen State College Campus.  We are committed to remaining a small grassroots organization, and a place where folks can provide direct aid in solidarity with prisoners.

15 responses to “About

  1. Me

    I do not understand how you can send books to prisoners as prisoners in Michigan cannot receive books like that.

    • I realize this response is over a year old, but I just started editing our site and I wanted to get back to you. Bookstores and publishers can be approved to send books to inmates and our program is run through Left Bank Books in Seattle, WA, which has been approved by the facilities to send books to prisoners. This includes facilities ion Michigan.

  2. susan

    What’s the address prisoners can write to to get on the list?

  3. Ronnie Larson

    Does the prisoner have to request books or how does this work? I’ve been trying to get my ex some Narcotics Anonymous books for months!

    • The way our organization works is that an inmate writes a letter to the central office in Seattle requesting the genres of books that they are interested in. Requests sent to to Seattle get doled out more or less at random to the various chapters of the organization (Olympia, Bellingham, or Portland) to be filled. All of the chapters send out donated books, so we are not generally able to meet requests for specific titles. For example, if your ex wrote asking for Narcotics Anonymous we would most likely just send them what ever books on drug use recovery we happened to have at that given time. Because we are a volunteer-run non-profit it can take up to (and occasionally over) a year for inmates to receive their packages, though sometimes they arrive within 3-4 months.

      If you think this is the best fit for your friend’s needs let them know that they can write to us at:
      Books to Prisoners
      c/o Left Bank Books
      92 Pike Street, Box A
      Seattle, WA 98101

      ​If you were hoping to be able to send them something more directly, I know that most facilities allow new books from Amazon to be sent directly to inmates. If you are unsure of how to go about doing this, I can put you in contact with one of our volunteers who has had success sending books to her prison pen pals.​

      • Larson, Ronnie

        Thank you so much for the information. I will forward it to him and he will be moved to Forks next month so you will hear from him after that. Thanks again,

        Ronnie Larson

        ________________________________

  4. Hello:
    I help inmates by posting their short stories, poems and art work on my website or social networks. I would like to know how I can send books to the men and woman I’m helping.

    Thank you
    Gina/ Books by Inmates LLC

    • Thanks for contacting us. That sounds like an awesome project.
      My name is Lexi and I am part of the Books to Prisoners collective.

      Olympia Books to Prisoners receives letters/book requests from prisoners through the Seattle Chapter of Books to Prisoners. Prisoners send their requests to that chapter via mail and then the Seattle chapter gives the Olympia chapter some of the letters so we can respond and fill requests from our location and our community donated library. Essentially, we do not choose or approach prisoners to send them books, they make requests and we respond.

      An option for you could be to provide prisoners the Books to Prisoners mailing address so that they can write their requests. The mailing address is Books to Prisoners, C/O Left Bank Books, 92 Pike Street Box A, Seattle, WA 98101. You could also check the requirements and restrictions for the facility that a prisoner is located and send them books yourself.

      Hopefully this helps!

      Please feel free to contact us with any other questions, our email address is olybtp@gmail.com

      Lexi

  5. Ronnie Larson

    What are the volunteer hours if we want to come in and help? I’m interested for this summer when I’m not at work at a school.

  6. Cb

    If you’re not going be open on Sunday please post your hours to reflect that, thank you.

    • We are always open Sundays noon-3 unless otherwise posted on our website and facebook page. When you arrive you need to knock to be let in. I apologize if this was unclear, and will attempt to make this more clear in the future.

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  8. I will immediately grab your rss feed as I can’t to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service.
    Do you have any? Kindly allow me recognise in order that I may subscribe.
    Thanks.

  9. We are a publishing company in Anacortes, WA and have several copies of the first editionf, Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare by Réanne Hemingway Douglass. Is this a book you would be interested in having up donation? Do you accept donations by mail?
    Back cover text
    His Dream—a lifelong goal to round Cape Horn and circumnavigate the Southern Hemisphere in their sailboat.
    Her Nightmare—coping with her husband—a driven captain—and the frightening seas of the Great Southern Ocean. Eight hundred miles WNW of Cape Horn they encountered the Ultimate Wave which pitchpoled their sailboat and turned it into a leaking lifeboat. Pulling together, they struggled over 42 days to reach the coast of southern Chile while family and friends all but gave up hope.
    About the Author
    Réanne Hemingway-Douglass grew up in the Great Lakes region and Washington D.C. She attended Pomona College, Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, and the Université de Grenoble, France. After teaching French for twenty years, she joined her husband, Don Douglass, in their manufacturing and backpacking business. In the 1970s she and Don were the first American couple to attempt a circumnavigation of the Southern Hemisphere by sailboat. Réanne’s best-selling book, Cape Horn: One Man’s Dream, One Woman’s Nightmare, tells the story of their pitchpoling near Cape Horn. In her fifties, Réanne and her friend Katherine Wells were the first women to bicycle across Tierra del Fuego. Réanne’s articles on bicycling, cruising and women’s issues have appeared in numerous outdoor magazines. She and Don are the authors of a series of six detailed nautical guidebooks and maps from Baja Mexico to Prince William Sound, Alaska. Réanne is also the author of The Shelburne Escape Line – Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, The British Royal Navy and London’s MI-9. The Douglasses live on Fidalgo Island in Washington State, U.S.A.

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