UC Books to Prisoners Ships Thousands of Books in Mega-Packing Day

On Monday March 16th, with the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States beginning to skyrocket, many who were able were already taking steps to work remotely and shelter-in-place. But, down in the basement of the Independent Media Center, eight volunteers from Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners (B2P) were hard at work.

Aware that the pandemic would soon mean that they must close their doors, members of B2P had decided to have one, last volunteer day to try and get as much work done as possible before then. So, for about eight hours that Monday, B2P volunteers worked to fulfill as many book requests, answer as many letters, and ship as many books as they could.

B2P volunteers hard at work on March 16th’s “Mega-Packing” volunteer day (PC: Adithya Kuchibhotla)

To Ann Lowry, B2P volunteer, this level of work was business as usual. “We were “dedicated,” but not especially “brave,” ” she explained in an email. Though the IMC basement was heavily trafficked, she knew that it would be unsafe for B2P volunteers to be coming and going more than they had to. “That’s why I worked to conceive of the process that allowed us to get all of the books shipped accurately to all of the prisoners, even those who had been transferred.  I hoped we could do it in 1 day, and we achieved that goal.”

In that single, eight-hour day, B2P shipped about 400 orders, or an estimated 1,200-1,500 individual books. The postage costs were over $1,000, which Ann told me was B2P’s normal postage budget for about two months.

A volunteer checks the addresses of each inmate against B2P’s database. Prisoners are frequently moved between carcarel facilities, meaning that their address can change between the time they make their request and the time it gets processed by B2P. (PC: Adithya Kuchibhotla)

B2P delivered so many packages to the Urbana Post Office on the main floor of the Independent Media Center that they couldn’t hold them all for delivery. Some B2P volunteers therefore came back on the next day, March 17th, to finish the job.

To volunteers like Ann, the Mega-Packing day was a little like the Dolly Parton song, “9 to 5,” except that Dolly Parton “was referring to young female office workers, rather than older women filling and hauling book boxes while standing on a concrete floor for an entire day.”

Priscilla Christians, another volunteer, wrote in an email that “we all had a sense of purpose and knew our time was limited before the lock down.” B2P has since closed its doors until May 15th due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, a decision that Priscilla explained that they regretted “in view of the need for reading and study material by those incarcerated, but there was no real choice.” Priscilla added that “We hope it’s temporary and are eager to be back in operation when it’s safe.”

UC Books to Prisoners is an Urbana, Illinois based project providing books to Illinois inmates at no cost by mail as well as through two county jail libraries which they operate.

To learn more about B2P, including how to volunteer, you can visit their website: http://www.books2prisoners.org/.

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COVID-19 News and Important Resources

There are now over 35,000 confirmed cases of Corona Virus, also known as COVID-19, in the United States. To avoid contracting or spreading the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you keep at least six feet of distance from others, stay indoors as much as possible, and frequently disinfect commonly used or shared surfaces such as keyboards, computer mice, toilets, sinks, door handles, light switches, controllers, remotes, chair backs, and staircase railings. As of March 20th Governor of Illinois J.B. Pritzker, has issued a shelter-in-place order effective until at least April 7th. 

In the wake of the Corona Virus outbreak, local CU organizers have pushed for a swift and progressive response to ensure that those most vulnerable to the disease and its impacts are looked after. The best guide to local resources is this document put together by Champaign-Urbana Mutual Aid, a recently formed online group of volunteers and organizers addressing the crisis. In addition, the State of Illinois has recently launched a new website for COVID-19 updates and resources.

Employers right now have a responsibility to provide sick pay, hazard pay, remote work options, or gloves, masks and other materials needed to work safely. If you have an employer that refuses to provide these things, please let us know.

Below is a list of some important news and resources you may have missed:

We will update this post as we learn more. Please contact us to let us know of any important news or resources you think belong here!


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Criminal Justice Reform to Return Dignity to our Community

This statement by 103rd District Illinois State Representative Carol Ammons was made to the Champaign County Board on October 24, 2019. It has been edited to fit in our print edition; the full version is in our online edition at publici.ucimc.org. For more on criminal justice reform ideas, see http://www.staterepcarolammons.com/.

As a County Board member (2008-2013), I participated in the past examination of the condition of the county jail. I have been working to advance pretrial justice for over ten years. However, even people who are relatively new to this work know that we are at a special moment. Half a century after the Manhattan Bail Project first showed that money bail is unnecessary to assure court appearance, there is unprecedented, growing demand for change; far-reaching litigation is compelling jurisdictions to abruptly alter their practices; and local, state and national lawmakers are honing in on plans for comprehensive reform. Continue reading

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The Trump Administration Just Opened a New Immigrant Prison in Rural Michigan

From his office at the Cristo Rey Church in Lansing, Mich., Oscar Castañeda runs a campaign against a new federal immigrant prison, part of President Donald Trump’s escalation of immigration enforcement.

In May, 2019, the Trump administration awarded a ten-year, $398 million contract to The GEO Group, the largest private prison corporation in the country, to reopen a shuttered Michigan prison. Located in rural Baldwin, Mich., the North Lake Correctional Facility opened in late 2019 with a capacity of 1,800. Continue reading

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Midwest Black Women Climate Justice Leaders

Last fall, I led a reading group on climate justice and learned about three leaders from the midwest who inspire me. They recognize that climate change is having the greatest impact on communities who have the least. And they share visions and solutions that help us see the way forward for an intersectional climate movement.

I encountered Dr. Dorceta Taylor and Isra Hirsi as I looked for voices that called out the racism in the environmental movement; Dr. Taylor does this through historical and contemporary analysis as a researcher and professor, and Isra Hirsi models this through her activism. I saw Naomi Davis speak at a Lobby Day I attended in Springfield. Through her activism and advocacy, she is helping to demonstrate the power of intersectional organizing. I hope you will be as inspired by them as I have been. Continue reading

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Fighting for the Soul of Public Education

Demonstration in support of UC Santa Cruz graduate instructors, striking for Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) allowances. Photo by Ali Fuat Yuvali

The administration of the University of California, Santa Cruz announced on Friday, February 28 that it would fire fifty-four graduate instructors who are on strike at the University. The announcement comes as the latest move in a nation-wide wave of strikes over teaching salaries that have not kept up with the cost of living, and over the very concept of value of accessible public education. Continue reading

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