Books to Prisoners to ship more than 100,000 books by end of year


A group gathering at The Independent Media Center

By Brittney Nadler

Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to shipping books to inmates, will have sent 100,000 books by the end of the year.

“It’s not even the middle of September, and we’ve already shipped 99,000 books before the dinner even happened, so we’re really excited about that,” said Lolita Dumas, volunteer supervisor for the organization.  

In celebration of the 10-year goal, the organization hosted a dinner at the Independent Media Center in Urbana on Saturday for the public as a way of thanking the community and past, present and future volunteers, Dumas said. 

The group services 27 prisons and federal institutions throughout the state and also checks out books at the Champaign County Jail. Only about 15 of these institutions have libraries of their own.

“We’ll ask them, ‘Hey, have you read this book?’ or, ‘I heard this book was really good,’?” Dumas said. “Or, ‘Hey, one of your books is missing pages!’?”

Inmates also send in poems and artwork that the organization displays. Todd Nickelson has been volunteering for Books to Prisoners for five years and said he is happy to be involved in such a good program.

“I think this fills a pretty necessary void,” he said. “It provides a really valuable service and there’s nothing else that replicates it.”

Nickelson has received requests for a variety of books, such as books written in Polish. He said sometimes they have exactly what the inmate is looking for while other requests can be trickier to fulfill. 

Luis Postlewaite has been with the group for seven months and was once on the other end of the bargain. 

“I was in the department of correction at one time, and I needed something to read,” he said. “It’s a good program … I’m looking forward to 10 years of doing this.”

Postlewaite used to request math books and dictionaries in order to study for the GED.

For now, Books to Prisoners is looking forward to its fall book sale, co-sponsored by the literacy organization Altrusa, on Oct. 25 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Independent Media Center, Dumas said.

Books are donated by the community and will cost 50 cents for paperback and $1 for hardback.

“They enjoy it,” Dumas said of the inmates. “Every other letter, there’s someone thanking us for being here, so we appreciate that. We just want to continue to be able to do what we do.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]