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A Letter From APBP

Dear APBPers,

Summer afternoons at the Aull Center found four of volunteers collaborating closely: West Virginia University graduate students Katie Volgelphol, Emilie Shumway, and Beth Staley and Villanova University student Corina Scott. Together, they focused on cleaning out the Aull Center, sending books, setting goals for continued progress, and planning to work with the women’s book club at Hazelton.

Katie’s organizational skills revitalized the space of the Aull Center, and she made it possible for APBP to recycle nearly 100 boxes of books. “It took 8 long, dusty, grimy, messy days of sorting, organizing and recycling, but the Aull Center now looks better than ever,” Katie explains. “Matching books is faster and easier now that the shelves are free from clutter, and,” she adds, “a number of forgotten gems were found hidden within the piles of books. Through the clean-out, we were able to take a much better inventory of what APBP currently has and truly needs.”

When it came to sending books, nobody was as dedicated as Corina who took genuine care with each step of the process. “I love reading letters, I love matching, and I even came to love wrapping,” she admits before describing the experience on a deeper level: “I love to get a sense of who someone is through the literature they request in a letter.” When Corina places a wrapped book in a USPS bin, she knows that that’s the beginning not the end of the book-sending cycle. She says, “I like to imagine the person reading the book. I like to believe the books are connecting us, a bridge between me and someone I have never met but would like to know.”

Emilie kept her eye on a lot of details. She developed a handy guide to the names of all the institutions we send books to, and she’s ready to keep upgrading our level of efficiency. “The word about APBP seems to have spread widely,” she says, adding that “we're even getting letters now from regional jails.” Emilie is hopeful that we’ll “engage enough volunteers to increase our turnaround time, so each letter is answered within a week or two of our receiving it. I also hope we can do more specific book drives, to help us stockpile some of the books people request the most (how-to, self-help, authors like James Patterson, etc.).”

Beth looks forward to preparing writing workshops for the women’s book club at Hazelton. She has begun copyediting a manuscript collection of their writing that, she admits, “made me want to write creatively again.” Beth goes on: “To compelling descriptions of the world, these writers have added compelling perspectives that can help us make it better.”

In closing, Katie has a few words for all the volunteers who helped us out: “I was blown away at the number of people who went out of their way to assist APBP. Whether it was the volunteers who came and worked through the week and on the weekends or the many people who mailed and dropped off book donations, the project received constant support.”

In Gratitude,

Katie, Corina, Emilie, and Beth


Meet Our Team

Volunteer Jordan Carter

Books can do so much. They can teach empathy, reduce stress, provide mental stimulation, increase knowledge and vocabulary, improve memory, help develop critical thinking skills, entertain, inspire hope, and so much more. These skills are imperative, especially to those of us who are disenfranchised in some way. But I think more important than any of that is a book’s ability to provide an escape from this world into another.

“In these few seconds, I have lived a lifetime.” – Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

While Eleanor, the protagonist of Haunting of Hill House, is not talking about reading, she might as well be.

“When you read a book, you leave prison for awhile,” reads one correspondence received by Appalachian Prison Book Project. It was letters like these from people in prison looking for an escape from their reality that first drew me to APBP in 2015.

Books have long been my escape, too, not from a physical prison, but from a mental one. It’s hard to put into words what books have done for me and how they’ve helped to alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety disorder, but this correspondence does it well: “It’s wonderful to receive a book to lift the darkness away.”

It is hard, too, to grapple with the idea that the letter writer and I are not so unalike, but that one of us doesn’t get to go home at night. I am reminded of Conor Oberst’s Desert Island Questionnaire song lyrics: “I don’t know what it means when he takes my pulse and says that I’m a lot like him.”

We share a moment with that letter as I scour our collection of donated materials at the Aull Center and hand-select a new title to lift the darkness away. I handwrite him a note and wrap and address his parcel and send it away. Doesn’t he, too, deserve to live a lifetime?

Corina Scott in the Aull Center, Summer 2017

APBP President Yvonne Hammond, Fall 2017
JMU Service-Learning Weekend

For the second year in a row, APBP welcomed students from James Madison University for a spring break service trip. Here are selected responses from the generous college students who gave their time to the organization one weekend this spring:

I had a passion for this particular topic before I came to APBP but this weekend has definitely fueled my hunger to know more, and become more prepared to advocate and educate myself and others. This experience has been extremely enlightening and I hope to leave my mark on this world by making a change in the justice system and also changing the ways in which we view and treat “criminals.” In reality people who have not had an easy life in any way need guidance and education, and I have to figure out how to make those resources available to this population. There is so much to be done. Thank you for the experience.

I cannot fully put into words all of the things I will take away from this opportunity, but I know I leave here with a new sense/fire for doing everything I can to educate others and get even more involved than I am in seeing and helping those incarcerated and those to be released. I take away hope, in the midst of this hopeless presidency and systematic era of institutional racism and power. I am hopeful in changing incarcerated peoples lives and educating my friends and others who may not even know. Thank you! 

I expected to learn about the value of education in the prison system and how it would affect how felons would re-enter their communities. While this was for sure met, it allowed me education way beyond of the systematic racism and injustice in the prison system. I believe reading the letters, watching “13th,” and learning about the impact we can make on this broken system was powerful and I really appreciate it! I am re-energized to not only educate myself more but to also educate others. I would not change anything!

Some things that I have taken away is that in order to create change, society needs to educate ourselves and change mindsets about what is “right” and “wrong.” I believe that this will take time and a lot of efforts but can be done by those who are willing to change.

The reflection activities were great! It was so valuable to learn about the major elements of the criminal justice system, and I believe this weekend was a call to action for many us to become more educated on such issues.

A High School Student's Perspective

Ellie Schneider, of Loudon County High School in Virginia, chose APBP for her senior service learning project. Here are some of her thoughts on the experience:

My volunteer work at the Appalachian Prison Book Project has opened my eyes to the multitude of benefits of allowing prisoners to read and own books while incarcerated. As part of a community service project to finish out my senior year in high school, I chose the APBP to commit my service with the hopes of bettering the community. Some of my work tasks included transcribing hand written letters from inmates, typing feedback from others who have volunteered with the program, and collecting books to be distributed to prisons in the Appalachian region.

While reading the letters from the prisoners who are so extremely grateful for the books they are sent, I gained a new perspective on how inmates benefit from having books. So many letters described the books as being an immense help in passing time, educating themselves, or even inspiring hope for the future. The books truly are tools which allow those incarcerated to learn skills and enjoy some great literature. As my work with the APBP comes to a close, I find myself more empathetic to prisoners, many of whom were underprivileged from youth and at high risk of serving prison time. I learned so much about the program, its goals, and the resilient nature of the human spirit, and I truly hope my work has been helpful in allowing the program to do its amazing service.

JMU Students and APBP Members SJ Stout and Valerie Surrett


A Report on the Women's Book Club from SJ Stout

As an APBP intern last spring, I was eager to get involved with the women's book club at Hazelton, but nervous too. How could I prepare? Should we provide discussion questions, secondary readings? Are there strategies for moderating? Does someone lecture?

“We aren’t really there to teach,” Katy told me, “Our role is to create the space and bring resources, like books and paper, to them.” Still, driving out past snowy fields, passing through metal detectors and automatic gates flanked by guards and two way mirrors, I was nervous. Many of the more senior members of the club had been transferred or released, so our circle was small, filled with new faces. Early on though, I knew not to worry.

When we discussed Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go, the women leapt into action. They debated characters and plot structure; they posed questions and dove back and forth between book pages and stories from their own lives, like gorgeous sea creatures. Later, prompted by Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Katy asked, “What do you need to pack with you to survive?” And I realized how these novels, poems, and short stories were transformed in these women’s hands into tools—not unlike paper clips and flashlights—to survive in the world.

I had photocopying duties, some organizing and collecting and typing to do, but the book club’s value happened in the room, fueling my APBP activities and inspiring me to reach out to others about ABPB’s mission. The women at Hazelton solidified for me the worth in all people and the need to cultivate opportunities for all people to flourish. Each meeting left me further committed, and eager to return. Best yet, as our discussions continued from losses and reunions to activism, buddhism, and police violence, the sense of “us” and “them” melted away. Emerging was a curious, kind, apprehensive, brave, encouraging, funny we. It’s summer now, but I am still thinking about this dynamic, wise we. Maybe this we is the response to our dystopian present.  The we— like the double heads of playing cards, somersaulting between asking and answering, a Swiss army knife of voices and visions— is our way to survive.


Most Needed

There are some books that are so often requested that we can't keep up. And we are always in need of funds for postage.
  • Dictionaries
  • Thesauruses
  • Legal dictionaries
  • Almanacs
  • World languages, especially Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese
  • Books on Wicca
  • Books on art, drawing, anime
  • "How to" books on skills, including business, construction, computers, cars, etc.

Avery Williamson, Colson Hall, Fall 2017

About APBP

The Appalachian Prison Book Project is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that sends free books to people who are imprisoned in the Appalachian region. The project sends books to West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Many prisons lack adequate libraries, and books can be a real life line to people doing time. Recidivism rates go down when people in prison have access to educational programs. APBP considers its work part of this larger social goal. We also believe that education is a human right that extends to people who may never be released.

Founded by WVU English Professor Katy Ryan in 2004, APBP has become a dynamic site for educational justice. Volunteers respond to approximately 80 letters every week from imprisoned people who are looking for something to read. APBP also facilitates two book clubs that meet every other week at Hazelton Correctional Center, a federal prison in West Virginia.

Mail Bag 

"I've recently been put on close custody, and will be on 23-hour lockdown in a single-man cell. I do not have television or radio, and there is limited access to reading material. I am requesting your assistance in the hope that I will be able to maintain some of my sanity. Thank you for the time and effort you put in to assisting those of us who have taken the wrong path in life.

-Nicholas, Tiptonville, Tenn.


Book Tally

Since 2006, APBP has mailed more than 22,000 books to people imprisoned in six states.

Volunteer with APBP

Want to volunteer with the Appalachian Prison Book Project? Send an e-mail to  

Special Thank You

Many thanks to Jeff and Jennifer Schneider for their recent and generous donation of $10,000. This gift is helping the book clubs flourish and enabling APBP to mail many, many books! We are so grateful for the Schneiders' ongoing support.

Issue 6, Fall 2017

This issue of Appalachian Prison Book Project News was produced by Katy Ryan and Diana Mazzella.

Copyright © 2017 Appalachian Prison Book Project, All rights reserved.

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