featured Inclusion Poverty

Prison is an isolating experience, and we want to help. Bringing books to women in the Burnside jail

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Books Beyond Bars is a wonderful collective whose members visit the women’s section of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside a couple of times each month to deliver books and journals to the women who are incarcerated there.

resizedWe usually bring in four big tote bags full of books. We have a library at the Dal Legal Aid Centre on Gottingen Street, and we take requests. We will either find the books in our library, track them down in second hand bookstores, or ask for donations,” says Su Donovaro, one of the members of the collective.

“Journals are another big thing, we always bring in lots of journals, they always want to write,”she adds. “Everybody wants a journal.”

A read-aloud program is another very popular mainstay of the program. Moms and grandmothers are recorded reading a children’s book, and then Books Beyond Bars sends the CD and the book to the child.

“They’ll often add something like ‘this is mom, I miss you, I love you.’ “There is always a bunch of women that want to do that, moms and grandmas, just to keep that relationship alive, prison is an isolating experience, and we want to help,” says Donovaro.

The members of the Books Behind Bars collective consider themselves prison abolitionists and anti-capitalists, says Donovaro, and look upon their work not as charity, but as an act of solidarity with the women who are imprisoned.   

“We don’t think that the prison system can be reformed, but at the same time we want to help improve the situation for the folks inside. It is definitely a fine line between providing these services, while knowing that ideally the prison system should not exist. We just hope it will help with the women’s quality of life,” she says.

“Sending people away and isolating them from their families doesn’t address any of the root causes such as racism and poverty and abuse that brought them there. It just isolates people further and returns them to society without having had a chance to work on the things that need to be worked on,” says Donovaro.

Relying on donations and volunteers, and operating from month to month, the collective has initiated a modest fundraising campaign to provide a bit more predictability.

These days a lot of energy is extended just to keep the organization going. The hope is that more predictable funding over a longer period will allow the group to focus a bit more on what it’s all about.  

“The campaign is going well, says Donovaro, we’re so grateful for any donations that people can give us. If you can’t give money we understand that, but you can always share the fundraiser with others, and think about the prison system.”

Help fund Books Beyond Bars for a year, or find out about specific books the group is trying to locate and how else you can help here. Read about Words without Walls, a book of poetry and art created by Books Beyond Bars a couple of years ago. And don’t forget to like them on Facebook.