In December, Brenda Big Eagle contracted Mitigation Specialist for the Thurston County Public Defense and Athena Brown, Diversion/Reentry specialist for the Thurston County Jail, organized a group of dedicated volunteers to help collect and sort new books for the county jail. The collected books replaced severely damaged books currently being utilized at the jail. Last Word Books graciously accepted donations on behalf of the project. The community heard the need and the response was overwhelming. Over 4,000 donated books were delivered to the jail on December 15th in a happy one-day marathon. Another 1,200 books were donated to the Nisqually jail. For the majority of inmates, reading is one of few activities allowed. Big Eagle stated that the inmates were beyond ecstatic and extremely grateful with the arrival of the new books.
The importance of books for people who are incarcerated is captured in a new book (of course) by George Pelecanos, The Man Who Came Uptown. Among other characters, there is a librarian who recommends books for a twenty-eight-year-old African-American inmate named Michael Hudson. Pelecanos writes, “In the past year, since he had first been incarcerated [Michael] had become a voracious reader. His tastes ran to stories occurring outside of East Coast cities. He liked to read about the kinds of people he’d not met growing up in Washington and that were set in places he’d never visited.” Michael tells the librarian that he never read a book in his life before he was incarcerated. It’s quite possible that there are people just like Michael in our jail—and that with this new collection of books, they will become readers too.