Great Falls Books Through Barsis creating free access to books for people in prisons
Select a membership level
If you pick this tier you'll be keeping us in stock of the zines we print to send on request. Help us make sure we can provide prisoners access to skills from drawing to labor organizing
Special Request Sponsor
Sometimes we get very specific requests, that we can't reliably fulfill with our library of donated books. At $25/mo, you can give us the flexibility to reach further to fulfill these requests
About Great Falls Books Through Bars
“24 hours a day in a box, will in time, drive the mind so far within itself, that without an outlet, it would go mad! Books are a blessing in here, again THANK YOU ALL!”
-- from a letter we received from Huntsville, TX
GREAT FALLS BOOKS THROUGH BARS IS A GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION IN FRANKLIN COUNTY, MA THAT SENDS FREE BOOKS, RESOURCES AND READING MATERIAL TO PRISONERS.
We’re an all-volunteer group inspired by prison book initiatives around the country, which have come into being during a massive increase in imprisonment since the late twentieth century. We distribute books to contribute to the education, entertainment and support of incarcerated people. We recognize that educational programs and libraries in prisons are severely limited or lacking.
It is important to us to open up lines of communication between incarcerated people and people outside the walls, and to deepen our understanding of both the causes and effects of the rapid expansion of mass incarceration in recent decades.
Ultimately, we believe in the possibility of a world without prisons, where no one profits from anyone else’s misery, and where everyone in our community has their needs met and the opportunity to develop their potential in any way they desire.
For one time donations click here: gf.me/u/xpbvy3
We are part of an incredible community. All of the books we send are generously donated. All of the labor is done by dedicated and thoughtful volunteers. And we are honored to operate out of La Mariposa Collective - a social center in downtown Great Falls (so-called Turners Falls) that provides a space where people of color can celebrate, heal, resist, and build towards collective liberation.
At the core of our organization are our monthly volunteer days on the 2nd Saturday of every month from 1-4pm at La Mariposa (that is,115 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA 01376) where we open letters from incarcerated people and respond to their requests as best we can, pulling together a package of books, zines, and resource lists for each person who writes us. Some volunteers spend all three hours filling a single request, drifting through our musty basement of books, sifting through the shelves until the selection feels right. Some sit by the window upstairs, working on letters to accompany the packaged books. Others are on quality control, thoroughly taping every edge and corner in the hopes that each parcel survives its journey.
In 2019, Great Falls Books Through Bars mailed 2,785 books, along with many zines and magazines to people incarcerated in state and federal prisons across the country. Many thanks to the hundreds of people who helped make this possible!
Speaking of making things possible, this is a fundraising appeal, but read it even if you don’t think you can donate money to this project! We really want to share what GFBTB has been up to. It seems like making a regular space for people to meet up to show material support for prisoners and the other events we host is helping to grow a culture of solidarity and resistance – it’s really a great opportunity to see what we’re capable of doing together when we all contribute what we can. It’s been so touching to read back through the hundreds of letters we’ve gotten this year from people behind razor wire, who tell us how much a connection to the outside world means to them. Please check out a few of their testimonials below.
In addition to our (more than) monthly volunteer days, our collective did a bunch of other things we’re proud of in 2019:
- In February, we showed a short film about 508 Bike Life, an amazing crew of young bike riders in Worcester whose slogan is "Bikes up, guns down." Worcester cops call them a gang. We wrote cards & letters to a member who was incarcerated following run ins with overzealous city police.
- In the spring, we headed to the National Books to Prisoners Conference in Boston to learn and share with a bunch of other groups doing similar work around the US and Canada. We also arm wrestled, shared card tricks and swapped stories with new pals from around the continent.
- In May, we celebrated the arrival of spring back at home by putting on Abolition Fest, generously hosted by Ten Forward, with wide ranging music and dance performances and food, raising money for ourselves and the Western MA Bail Fund.
- We were happy to cosponsor the March Against Cages on Aug 4, at the Boston conference of the American Correctional Association, where thousands of guards, wardens, ICE/Border Patrol, jailers, weapons companies, prison profiteers and more gather to make connections. A large and spirited crowd held the busy commercial street outside the conference for hours. Good job to all the local organizers!
- In the fall we showed two films, “Inside Out: Against Prison Society,” followed by a discussion about the Abolition Network and the Western MA Bail Fund, and “Ovarian Psycos,” about a radical bike brigade in LA, followed by a group picture with a banner to send some love to their home base, La Conxa, which has persevered through attacks on their space this year. We also managed to raise a little money to share with the Abolition Network and La Conxa, because we all make each other stronger.
- We finished the year strong by hosting visits from several groups in November and December. We had a group of middle school students come and package books for the first time, and we were excited to have folks from an alternative high school in Holyoke come back for a second time to enthusiastically respond to letters during a snowstorm. We had the pleasure of hanging out with a group of people incarcerated at a local jail, who came by to chat, eat some pizza and see our setup. We were glad to be together out in the world for a while.
- We’ve continued a correspondence with water protector Rattler (www.freerattlernodapl.com), which is often slow, due to cards being rejected because the envelope is the wrong color and similar nonsense, but we were glad to answer his request for pictures of people smiling – thanks to everyone who was in the pictures. Rattler says: “Seeing all the smiling faces gives me energy. I continue the struggle even while I am in here… Someday when I am free to travel again I would like to come visit you all in person and give you all a great big hug… Love, hugs + prayers. Mni Wiconi! Water is Life!” Please keep writing to him, and to Red Fawn, who is also still being held in federal prison: www.standwithredfawn.org
We’d love to do more to support political prisoners, which is essential to building strong movements, and enriching to all of us who are in touch with people who have made sacrifices in defense of people and the land.
It seems clear that if our group can spend less time chasing after money, we’ll have more time to help build movements for a free and healthy world.
For this reason, as we go into our third year of sending books to prisoners, we’re launching this Patreon, so that our supporters can make monthly contributions in manageable amounts-- see the tier options! This way, we’ll have some assurance every month that we’ll be able to mail packages.
None of us are paid. Here’s where the money goes:
Our project would have been impossible without the generous gift of space by La Mariposa, a people of color run and focused community space, art venue, business space, and so much more. But now that we’re solidly established, it’s time for Books Through Bars to step up and give back to this space that’s nurtured us. In order to help with the costs of building maintenance, taxes, and insurance, we’re asking you, our supporters to help us raise $500/ month as rent for La Mariposa, which will have an impact far beyond our project as well as keeping BTB sustainable
We recognize that not everyone has disposable income and that funding is one of many many ways to contribute. Still, if enough of us chip in what we can each month, however much or little, we'll be well on our way to financial stability! If monthly donations don't feel doable, we will gladly accept a one-time donation on our GoFundMe page whenever that feels possible (forgive us for the outdated info on this page-- it was the fundraising appeal for 2019)!
And thanks to everyone who’s ever donated, packed books or written letters!
For more updates, follow us on our Facebook.
And check out out our real deal website here.
[This is a screenshot of the map we're building to visualize where the letters are coming from -- and where the books are going. We're in early stages of documenting at the moment, so only about 25 facilities have been pinpointed-- there are many more, likely hundreds, to be added. Stay tuned, and follow this link to interact with the map-in-progress.]
-- Oshkosh, WI
“...I am currently incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional in the S.H.U. Program. Where most days I spend 23 hrs. a day locked inside my cell. Needless to say, this isn’t very stimulating. I’m aware that you generously provide books for those of us incarcerated and as you might imagine, this place can be quite tedious, and I sure could use some books right now to break up the monotony!”
-- Carlisle, IN
“...I’d like to say thank you to everyone there who plays a part in making what your org. does for all of us in prison possible. For a lot of us, the only way for us to receive books is through [an] org. like yours... Every time I’ve written to Great Falls I’ve gotten something each time. Also the handwritten note that is sent with the books means a lot.”
-- Lancaster, CA
“...We have little to no books here, even our library is very low and outdated. Please do what you can it will be greatly appreciated.”
-- Newark, NJ
“First, thank you for all you do for us! The selections are always top notch and greatly appreciated!”
-- Tennessee Colony, TX
“...I am looking for other historical fiction, but I am open. I like to tell people that I eat books
: - ) . I am grateful for anything… We have no action at books unless they get sent in. Hope to hear back soon. Thank you...”
-- Delano, CA
“...I am 68 years old and I would really enjoy if you could find me some thick paper back books to read - 5 at a time is most we can receive as you know the drill, ha ha... I promise that the books will be taken care of and passed around so other inmates can enjoy them...”
-- Yazoo City, MS
“...Please sign me up for newsletters from advocates and help me connect with other activists...”
-- Homestead, FL
“I would first thank all of you who take time out of your schedules to give us the opportunity to get books. You truly don’t know the joy it brings us in places that are extremely dark! I am an inmate in Texas prison Ad/Seg Where I have been for close to 5 years. 24 hours a day in a box, will in time, drive the mind so far within itself, that without an outlet, it would go mad! Books are a blessing in here, again THANK YOU ALL!”
-- Huntsville, TX
"Salutations to all at Great Falls Books: May you all be blessed from our Heavenly "Father" up above. For all the tremendous work you do in "His" name, because you provide a fantastic service to those in need. From day one you supplied me with some great reading materials that better help me understand the world of our Heavenly "Father"...that I am so great ful to have obtained with and through your help...all and any materials you send me go to good use. After I read them, many others that are incarcerated with me are ardent to read the books as well. So the materials are reaching a plethora of individuals, so your efforts and services are never squandered on us...thank you for all your time and efforts with my request. May you have a positive and productive day in all you set out to do."
-- Coalinga, CA
“First off, Thank you! Everytime I receive a package from yall, the joy I get last for weeks! Again Thank You so much! You are greatly appreciated!”
“Greeting and Happy Holidays. Well here I am again, Angel dropping a kite for some more reading books! I like to received from you’ll and i have share all my reading books with my fellow inmates here at the Michael Unit i really enjoy all the reading books youll send me every time i send for a book request i read them and then i give them or pass them to other prisoners in here. At this moment we are going through a major shakedown that TDC has every 6 months so we have to be lockedown for at lest 3 weeks in the cell with our cellmates chilling and just doing time mostly we spend time writing letters to our family or we read books novels. Because we have to be in our cells lockdown for 24 hours a day so there is no much we can do in our small cells but sleep eat and listen to the radio and read books or magazine. Well i thought i just let youll know whats happening over here at the texas prison ... and i want to let youll know that all my homies from west Texas send their regards to you all and all of them have a lot of time and 7 of them [lists names] they all have life sentence and rest of the other inmates who are all my friends they all said hello and they told me thank youll for all the books and dictionary youll been sending us they really enjoy every book and dictionary. I now close with lots of respects and appreciation for all the reading books youll been sending me. God bless you all and Happy Holidays.”
-- Tennessee Colony, TX
“Thank you again for the great selection of books and magazines you sent… I did get the dictionary thanks again, used it to check spelling in this letter… Thank again for all your hard work and dedication. I hope you all had a great Thanks Giving.”
-- Brazoria, TX
“A brother gave me your info and told me that you bless prisoners with reading material, and I need your help… I have to do a year in high security and really need something to pass my time.”
-- Beaumont, TX
“I’d like to start with a Hello, been awhile. May the Lord continue to bless this organization and its volunteers. Keep up the good work, Happy Thanksgiving Merry Christmas & Happy New Years. SO. I’ve been good all year and would like some books books please!”
-- Tennessee Colony, TX
“Thank you very much for helping us prisoner’s, by passing our time getting out of these place! May God Bless you & love ones!”
-- Tennessee Colony, TX
“Thank you for the last selection on myths that you sent me, there was so much information that I used at my service (Messianic Jewish). All great info I received was passed on to people who need it. God bless you in all you do.”
-- Beaumont, TX
“I’m confined to a single cell 23-hours a day so I grately appreciate whatever you send. Thanking you in advance!”
-- Gatesville, TX
“Great Falls Staff, Good day! It must make you feel good about yourselves to be able to give the Republic a hand and help inmates occupy their time with something to read or study… I wish that I could purchase the books from Amazon or something, but I am indigent and the state of Texas only provides 5 stamped envelopes, 25 sheets of typing paper (I borrowed this special Texas Hobby paper) and one pen each month… Thank you!”
-- Dallas, TX
“I hope when this letter finds your hands that you & staff especially loved ones find yourselfs in the best of health and with your spirits flying in the highest levels of the sky. I wanted to Thank you. For the books you guys sent me.”
-- Tennessee Colony, TX
“I’m writing to you from a Texas prison known as Hutchins Unit. I like to read but its hard to get books here and my parents cant afford to buy and send me books. If you can send me some books to read I would be most gratefull.”
-- Dallas, TX
“First I would like to personally thank you for your staff at Great Falls for being able to send prisoners books that they may need or want. It must take quite a few people to run this type of operation. Ya’ll may not get the appreciation that ya’ll deserve. So on behalf of my fellow prisoners, past and present I extend my utmost appreciation, respect, and love to the staff at Great Falls!! Even the little guy, whom never hears how good of a job they are doing!! Thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
-- New Boston, TX
“Thank you so much for your time and effort in locating this literature for me. Means more than you could know. God bless you!”
-- Delano, CA
“I was referred to your program by a friend and I wanted to take a moment to appreciate and applaud the efforts of your program to promote positivity! It is program like yours that makes the world a good place. I thank you for your time and attention to my request…”
-- Delano, CA
“Hi friends & volunteers, I would like to send my best wishes to you all over at Great falls books. You guys have been a big help and very uplifting for me… I would love to read [these requested books] as well as just to send you all letters just to show and tell you all what you been for me. But I also enjoy just having someone to write as a penpal/friend. But I will continue to write you guys as often as possible. Take care and God bless you all.”
-- Soledad, CA
“Thank you so much for your dedication. It makes a huge impact on my life to be able to read & expand my mind.”
-- Seagoville, TX
“ I’ll welcome anything that you can provide and I promise to pass it around to the others as well. Reading helps pass slow time. Thanks a million!”
-- Seagoville, TX
“I would like to thank all who helped contribute and gather magazines for my last request it really helped broaden my knowledge over some of the new tactics and technology in automotives. I very much appreciate what you guys do for myself and a large spectrum of inmates across the US… Thank you guys!”
-- Boise, Idaho
Month to Month:
Our goal is to raise $1,000/month from donors. $1,000 would be divided up as such: $500/month ($6,000/year) would go directly to paying rent at La Mariposa where we have stored our books, had our monthly meetings, book packing days, and held events for 3 years. The remaining $500 would go towards buying supplies (primarily tape and envelopes) which costs about $50/month(we have to use a lot of tape, seriously), and sending packages to people who are currently incarcerated, which costs between $150-250/month. This number is ever expanding as we get more letters from people on the inside!
With the remainder (around $200), we could set up a printing account to easily get copies of packing slips, resource lists, and so many cool zines. We have also considered getting a copier for the same reason, but are investigating both potential options.