Towards the top of 2019, Mark Trecka, a shopkeeper at Binnacle Books, had a late-night dialog with Laurie Dick, the founding father of the Beacon Jail Rides Mission, which affords free rides for households between the Beacon practice station and Beacon-area prisons. The 2 needed to brainstorm a collaboration that might mix Binnacle’s books with the assets of Jail Rides. What they didn’t count on is that their dialogue would result in a direct plan of motion. “It was a type of exceptional issues,” says Trecka. “We had one assembly, brainstormed a mannequin for the mission, launched it, and actually hit the bottom operating.” What materialized from their dialogue was the Beacon Jail Books Mission. Based by Trecka, Dick, author Kristen Holt-Browning, and Binnacle homeowners Kate Ryan and Annmarie Nye, the volunteer-run enterprise has a singular aim: to supply free books to these behind bars.
Their method is straightforward. Incarcerated folks ship ebook requests via postcards or letters to the mission’s PO Field in Beacon. Mission volunteers order the requested books and show them in collaborating bookstores for patrons to buy as sponsored presents. Volunteers then ship the bought books, every accompanied with a handwritten notice of encouragement, to the requesting inmate. “We’ve at all times dealt instantly with incarcerated folks,” says Trecka. “We don’t collaborate with the Division of Corrections or the prisons themselves. We imagine individuals are deserving of human contact and deserving of books to learn, whoever they’re or no matter state of affairs they’re in.”
In reality, most inmates be taught concerning the ebook choices by phrase of mouth. Trecka notes one correspondence the place an inmate requested for six books, aspiring to share three with one other inmate who could not afford a stamp to put in writing his personal request. People behind bars typically present suggestions on what it means to them to obtain books, comparable to this notice from an nameless reader: “I actually admire the ebook mission. You give us the power to go to different locations, different worlds, and expertise different issues we couldn’t do with out you and creativeness. Time passes a lot quicker with an excellent ebook! Many blessings to all of you and the individuals who assist you. And us!”
Michal Mart and Christian Stadler have been co-leading the mission since March, a interval marked by important growth. Whereas the initiative started at Binnacle Books in Beacon, it now contains a number of Hudson Valley bookstores. In July, Kingston’s Blackbird Infoshop, Half Moon Books, Tough Draft Bar & Books, and World’s Finish Comics joined the bandwagon. In October, each Rectangular Books areas in Rhinebeck and Millerton adopted go well with. Moreover, the mission just lately celebrated the milestone of sending over 3,000 books to incarcerated readers since February 2020. Whereas the present variety of ebook requests fluctuates, they’ve grown to common 250 to 300 requests a month.
Whereas development means success, it additionally brings challenges. Though there are a number of state prisons close to Beacon the place the mission has despatched books—such because the Fishkill, Bedford Hills, and Inexperienced Haven correctional amenities—they supply literature to anybody incarcerated in New York. The demand for studying materials typically surpasses their capability to supply it. “One problem we’re beginning to work on is speaking again to folks,” says Mart. “Mark was doing it for some time, however one individual can’t correspond with a thousand. Whereas our books include a number of phrases of encouragement and connection, typically prisoners need to know extra about how the mission works or discover out different issues, comparable to the way to get garments for an interview after they get out.” To take care of the difficulty, they’ve created a brand new volunteer function particularly for correspondence.
As for the books they supply, Trecka emphasizes that the number of ebook requests from these incarcerated is as large as it will be in any inhabitants. Nonetheless, the mission has seen some constant tendencies. Mart notes, “We now have lots of people who request issues associated to reentry to society. That features texts on varied commerce jobs, or simply basic cash administration. There’s part of the inhabitants contacting us that participates within the Bard Jail Initiative. They normally request books that they’re learning of their applications.” Alternatively, fantasy has additionally been a constantly in style style because the mission started. “There’s a very fascinating subset of people who request roleplaying video games,” says Mart. “They’ve advised us that it helps them to flee. They’ll create their very own universe with guidelines and one thing to sit up for.”
Whereas addressing the mission’s place within the wider dialogue on jail reform and rehabilitation, Trecka offers his private insights. “I don’t imagine in jail reform,” says Trecka. “The opposite possibility just isn’t a greater jail or a jail with extra books. The higher possibility isn’t any jail. The powers that incarcerate folks will at all times discover methods to penalize them past no matter reforms we get to guard them.”
Nevertheless, regardless of his personal political beliefs, Trecka emphasizes that the Jail Books Mission was not based on political grounds. “Clearly, to name myself a jail abolitionist is taking a political stance, however the precise perform of the mission is, in a way, very apolitical,” says Trecka. “It was not based to reform prisons; it was based to get books to folks. It’s simply dignity. It’s simply humanitarian. It’s so simple as that.”