MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP) challenges mass incarceration by providing books and education to incarcerated people and by creating opportunities for volunteers and community groups to learn more about the legal and prison systems.

APBP is located in the Aull Center where volunteers open letters, match requests to books and wrap books for mailing.

APBP is fueled solely through book donations. Since the program began, APBP has sent around 30,000 books to incarcerated men and women over six different regions: West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.

Donations are acceptable as long as they follow the guidelines. The majority of prisons don’t allow hardback books to be sent in, so they recommend paperback books. They also can’t accept any books that have lude imagery.

“From the incarcerated men and women we communicate with, we get amazing feedback every single day. The letters are always so encouraging, positive and thankful.”

Gabriella Pishotti

ABPB organizes book clubs in prisons that provide incarcerated men and women an opportunity to read, discuss, and write about literature.

According to ABPB, a strong reading practice can become a tool for self-awareness, increased interest in education, successful re-entry, and overall well-being.

Photo credit: Raymond Thompson Jr.

Q & A with Gabriella Pishotti:

Q: How did the project get started?

A: It came out of a prison literature class taught in 2004 by our founder Katy Ryan. The class discovered there were no prison book projects in the Appalachia area. They wanted to work to change that so they start collecting books and the Appalachian Prison Book Project was born.

Since then we’ve developed a lot and we’ve moved to the Aull Center after the program first began and we’ve received a ton of donations pretty weekly. That’s pretty much how our program subsists. It’s fueled solely by donation that we get from community members and West Virginia University faculty members.

Since the program began we’ve donated around 30,000 books to incarcerated men and women in six different regions: West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. We’ve unfortunately received requests from other states as well but we can’t go outside that region as of right now.

Q: What books are really popular for the book clubs?

A: Things that are really popular are we really get a lot of dictionary and Almanac requests, but also a lot of how-to manuals. The one that I just read was how-to ride a forklift. So things that they’re trying to educate themselves so when they get to the outside, they’ll have job skills.

Q: Do you receive a lot of positive feedback?

A: From the incarcerated men and women that we communicate with, we get amazing feedback every single day. The letters that we read are always so encouraging and so positive, and they’re always so thankful that you just feel the gratitude oozing off the letter, which is really nice to read.

It’s crazy how fast gets around between incarcerated individuals because somebody will be in Tennessee and say, “I heard from my friend in West Virginia that this program exists can you send me books and any information?” So then we’ll send them the information and then we get like four requests back because they shared that information with other people in that prison that they interact with.

Word spreads really fast and they always share with us when they receive books they’re usually like, “Oh I shared this with my friend,” and then they donate it to the prison library so they’ll share it amongst their community too, which is nice.

Q: What would you like the public to know about the project?

A: We are always taking new volunteers. We are always accepting donations but more than anything we encourage educating the public on what is accessible to people who are incarcerated and what is not. We not only want to educate those on the inside but also those on the outside about the prison system, education access and the more people we get involved the better.