Pittsburgh Prison Book Project

Pittsburgh Prison Book Project, formerly Book ‘Em, is an all volunteer non-profit organization and is actively sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center and The Big Idea, they’re currently based in the Spartan Community Center of Hazelwood in Pittsburgh.

As a harm reduction project, Pittsburgh Prison Book Project sends reading and educational materials to those currently incarcerated across Pennsylvania. With diminished budgets for understocked prison libraries, organizations such as the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project are often the only means prisoners have of obtaining literature or reading material of any kind.

The Pittsburgh Prison Project was founded as Book ‘Em by Etta Cetera (she/her) and Athena Kazuhiro (she/her) in 2000. With the support of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Books Through Bars and the fiscal sponsorship from The Three Penny, a former Pittsburgh Bookstore, they were able to gain permission from the prison systems to send educational packages to incarcerated people.

In 2002, The Big Idea became the fiscal sponsor for the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project due to rapid growth and community interest—the Thomas Merton Center joined in co-sponsorship of the project in 2003. The Pittsburgh Prison Book Project operated in the Thomas Merton Center from 2003-2021. In 2021, they moved into a bigger space in the Spartan Community Center of Hazelwood, where you can find them packing books to send out to people who are incarcerated, among other things.

Below are pictures of their new space and a book packing session in action. Book packing sessions happen on a weekly basis, sometimes more frequently depending on interest and capacity. They’re always looking for more people who are looking to get involved in supporting people who are incarcerated.

Each month, the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project serves approximately 200 people who are currently incarcerated across 35 state and federal prisons in Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Prison Book Project mails an average of 500 pieces of reading material a month.

The Pittsburgh Prison Book Project has served approximately 40,000 people throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

In 2019, the Pittsburgh Prison Book Project fulfilled 2,234 individual requests from prisoners.

Click here to head to Pittsburgh Prison Book Project’s website—you can find out more information, sign up for book packing sessions, donate directly to their cause, and a few other things, too!

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