A books-to-prisons project in Mississippi called Big House Books fights the good fight against arbitrary and inhumane restrictions on access to free books!
Arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions
Up until last year, Big House Books--a project very similar to Asheville Prison Books--had been sending free reading material in South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI), located in Leakesville, with no problems.
Then one day, out of the blue, individuals who normally received books from BHB were told by prison administrators that they could no longer receive free, secular books.
That's right: they could continue to receive free books if they were "religious," while all other books had to be paid for.
But those incarcerated at the facility didn't give up; they decided to fight.
First, they tried to resolve the issue utilizing the prison's mandatory internal grievance process, but to no avail. Their concerns were rebuffed by prison officials, who, after all, had crafted the mean-spirited policy in the first place.
But two incarcerated individuals were willing to stand their ground and risk retaliation by becoming named plaintiffs in a lawsuit. Charles Owens and Jess Green reached out to Big House Books to help them challenge this irrational, cruel policy, and BHB secured the assistance of a legal advocacy group called the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ).
MCJ wrote the formal legal complaint and filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the new prison book policy violates incarcerated people's First and 14th Amendment rights.
Hitting a little too close to home
We'll be watching closely to see what happens in this case, as we are dealing at this moment with an identical situation in North Carolina.
Just a couple months ago, administrators at Alexander Correctional Institute in Taylorsville, NC got it in to their heads that free and donated books should no longer be permitted to send into the facility.
Asheville Prison Books investigated the reasons. At first, we were told that it was part of an effort to combat the introduction of contraband into the facility, but when questioned as to whether APB had ever been accused of sending in contraband, Assistant Superintendent Eric Dye acknowledged that, no, we had always operated in good faith.
Additionally, Mr. Dye even stated that the prison "really appreciated" our work. If that is the case, why are they doing everything in their power to hinder it?
Furthermore, when pressed to give a legitimate reason for the ban, Dye changed his answer from "contraband" to "It's just too many books! They're a nuisance!"
So the truth comes out. The reason they are no longer allowing donated books has nothing to do with contraband or security; it is because they don't feel like doing their jobs, which is to sort and distribute prisoner mail.
We don't accept their bogus claims!
This is simply absurd. AXCI's decision is a mean-spirited, punitive action poorly disguised as a "security" measure.
Well, the folks at SMCI weren't fooled, and neither was Big House Books, and neither are we! Asheville Prison Books is committed to challenging this policy. We applaud BHB for their advocacy, and will certainly be taking a page out of their book (and then sending that book into AXCI!) in the coming weeks and months.
We need your help!
Please call Alexander CI and tell them you want them to change this policy! Five minutes of your time goes A LONG WAY to helping these folks keep a key mental, emotional and education resource at their disposal.
The prison number is (828) 632-1331 and Eric Dye's extension is x1502. Ask to speak with Assistant Superintendent Eric Dye, or to leave a message with this receptionist.
Say you are calling because you heard about the new policy disallowing donated books into the prison and you are very concerned about the gap in access this will create. Say you would like to see the policy changed or something worked out so that people and organizations can still donate free books.
If you make a call please let us know what kind of response you get! Hit us up any time at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ands always, if you'd like to support our work monetarily, donations are warmly appreciated: https://www.paypal.me/AVLPrisonBooks
UPDATE: GOOD NEWS!
We've received word from Alexander CI that they will be allowing us to send in free books! Big thanks to everyone who called in!