Sunday, March 13, 2011


Kevin Coolidge

The United States prison population is the largest on earth. Currently, 1 in every 31 adults is either in jail, prison, probation, or on parole: that’s a lot of people. There’s a good chance that you know one of them. It might be your friend who got that DUI. Yeah, he knew he should have waited before driving, but he didn’t and now he’s going to have to do the time. You’d like to help, but if you knew what to do, you would have done it by now.

One thing you can do to make that time pass a little easier is to send a good book. Many inmates spend a lot of time reading. Even inmates in work release programs have long weekends where they can’t leave the premises, and one of the best ways to deal with boredom in the blocks is to read a book. Most prisons have a library available, but the choices might be limited, and many books will have pages torn out. Some prisoners use the paper to roll cigarettes, or are simply spiteful.

You lost yourself in The Name of the Wind, and you know your incarcerated friend would love it, but you can’t just take a book you enjoyed, wrap it up, and mail it. Books must come directly from a retailer or bookstore and be accompanied by an invoice. Many jails only allow new books, and used books will not make it to the inmate. This is because material cannot be shipped that has written notes or messages, and some used books may contain highlighting or writing in the margins. Also, many will not allow hardcover books or magazines, and although media mail is an economical choice to mail books through the U.S. Postal system, it can take weeks. If you think the inmate might be moved in this time frame, it would be a better choice to choose priority shipping. It costs more, but it is much more likely to reach your reader.

You might feel compelled to send a self-help book or perhaps a Bible, and though it may be a good choice, most inmates simply want to find a book that will help them pass a time. Now is the perfect time to start the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, or Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Perhaps, your friend has always wanted to write a novel, and now has the time to dedicate to the project. You may want to send him 90 Days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet or Chapter by Chapter by Heather Sellers.

Remember, that the books you do mail will become the property of the prison. Most jails give the inmate the right to the book first, though the inmate cannot take the book with them when they leave prison. Prisons also limit the number of books an inmate can have in their cell at any one time, and if there is a search for drugs or illegal contraband, they may take any books above the number allowed. When in doubt, call the prison the inmate will be staying at, and get as much information as possible.

In your rear-view mirror, red and blue lights are flashing, a siren is screaming, a police officer is about to pull you over, and this time, no matter what you say, no matter what you do, this time you are going to jail. You may be innocent. You may be guilty. You might be facing some hard time, but that time can pass a little easier with a good book…

Lost in a good book? Or Lost in the bowels of the beast? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss a past column? Past columns are available at our blog Looking for a book for a child or animal lover? Check out Hobo, the bookstore cat with his very own book, “Hobo Finds A Home”, a story about cat who wanted more out of life…