The Dignity & Respect Campaign promotes the idea that everyone deserves to be treated exactly as its title reads. The group's February 2012 award went to Rosemary Anderson, a disabled Air Force veteran who started "Spring Grass Book'em" five years ago. The effort sends books and letters to prisoners around the country. Many have told her "books are often the only good thing in their lives."
Prison libraries, if they exist at all, are often full of junk fiction, according to Anderson, and cannot serve the many prisoners who are desperate to learn, to prepare for college courses, to learn a trade, or to learn how to start their own business because they know their opportunities for employment will be limited when they get out. She gets requests for dictionaries more than any other book, but all reference books are in great demand. Anderson sends only educational books and what she calls "quality fiction" — no mysteries, crime, or horror.
75-90% of prisoners will get out, says Anderson, and will be our fellow citizens again, so providing books that can change lives and minds will help change society for the better.
More than books
Anderson also arranges pen pals based on common interests, especially for those prisoners who have been abandoned by their families. In one instance, a former math teacher will coach a prisoner who's been unable to pass the math portion of the GED.
Besides donations of books and money for postage, etc., "Spring Grass Book'em" really needs a space, possibly in a church, where volunteers can store, sort and mail out books. The group also needs guidance on how to achieve tax-deductible status, which would encourage more donations and enable grant applications.
Donations may be sent to 1401 Hodgkiss Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. To volunteer or arrange for a possible pick-up, email Rosemary Anderson.