Mark Trecka co-founded the Prison Books Project (prisonbooksproject.org).
How does the project work?
People who are incarcerated in local prisons request books or recommendations. We acquire the books, seek individual sponsors, get them paid for and pack and ship them with a handwritten note.
What attracted you to the project?
Prison abolition and prisoner-support projects have been matters of concern for me for a long time, but for a good portion of my adult life, I was itinerant, which made this kind of work hard to fathom. Living in Beacon, as I have for the past six years, I became involved in the Beacon Prison Rides Project, volunteers who provide free rides to people visiting loved ones incarcerated in local prisons. Laurie Dick, the founder and lead organizer of that project, is the one who had the idea for the books project.
What effect did COVID-19 have?
We’ve heard a lot of harrowing stories about incarcerated people weathering the storm of the virus. One person who was enrolled in the Bard Prison Initiative at Green Haven Correctional Facility [in Stormville] contracted COVID-19 and was moved to Shawangunk Correctional Facility [in Orange County], where he was placed in solitary confinement and denied access to his possessions, including his textbooks. We were able to provide him with some books in time for him to finish his midterm exams. More generally, we noticed a spike in book requests when prison visitations were suspended.
Have you seen more requests generally?
Growth is the word. We’ve fielded requests for more than 500 books in 18 months. In March 2020, we fielded 10 requests; in March 2021, it was 78. There are just a couple of us, and we find the time between raising families and working jobs and running Binnacle Books in Beacon, and so on. The need is clearly there, and we want to get a good, solid footing and let it grow as big as it needs. We’ve decided to make the project a nonprofit organization. We are working on seeking collaborators, exploring ways to reach more incarcerated people and shore up our resources.
How can people get involved?
There are always books to be sponsored. We field requests for all kinds of books, from supernatural romance novels and mysteries to political theory and philosophy. To sponsor a book, folks can swing by Binnacle [at 321 Main St.] and select a book off the requests shelf, write a postcard to tuck inside and pay for it. We take care of the rest. If anyone doesn’t have the funds to sponsor a book, they can come by and write a postcard — or 10! We also always need funds for postage and packaging.