I recently wrote to Wilma Alexander, who runs the book donation program we are supporting. She sent me this wonderful letter on the program. We are collecting books for the program at Re:Purpose Fest – Saturday June 29, 2019. John Dennis,
Guelph Tool Library Coordinator.
I’ve delivered 311 boxes of books since I started in September of 2015, by my estimation almost 11,000 books. I take books to the Toronto South Detention Centre, Toronto East Detention Centre, Vanier Centre for Women, and the Maplehurst Detention Centre. Vanier and Maplehurst are in Milton. These four institutions have between them potential for about 5000 prisoners.
There is no cost to running this program. I don’t raise any money, I just collect, sort and deliver books, with some help from my family for the pickups. Any costs incurred, such as gas for my car, I cover myself.
I get books from a number of sources. Lots from individuals, especially people who are downsizing and want to see their books being put to good use. I get a big share of my donations from church communities. Four big Toronto churches invite me to take books left over from their annual rummage sales. The Anglican parishioners in Guelph and Georgetown have sent me a steady supply. A Toronto bookstore specializing in science fiction and fantasy donates their advance reading copies. A publisher in Toronto has given me many boxes of promotional copies.
I sort all the material I receive to make sure the books suit the institutions they are going to. I take into consideration such things a gender preferences (they don’t want romance novels at Toronto South!), sturdiness of the copy, the presence of any staples or prohibited bindings and the suitability of the material. If the books are not suitable for any of the prisons, I take them to a local thrift store that supports programming for developmentally delayed adults. I take advantage of this steady stream of material and read, read, read. If I come across anything that is blatantly sexist, racist, homophobic or graphically violent, I send it to the recycling bin!
The book programs in the libraries are run by the prison librarians, and I deal with them directly when discussing book needs or delivering books. I don’t do any work within the prisons themselves. All the institutions go over all the material they receive meticulously. It is all scanned electronically, and any indication of where it came from, such as previous owners’ names or the names of libraries or schools that have discarded the books is removed or obliterated.
The institutions I take books to are very grateful and enthusiastic, and all the librarians have told me that they have a continuing need for books. While light fiction is always welcome, there is a big demand for more serious fiction and for all kinds of non-fiction. Many prisoners are working for their high school equivalencies so there is a need for all sorts of educational material.
I grew up in Etobicoke, and my family lived in a small subdivision that was bordered on two sides by what was then the Mimico Reformatory, now the site of the Toronto South Detention Centre. The reformatory was a jail farm, and we were used to pushing grass through the fence to the cows and pigs, and seeing the prisoners working in the crops. Toronto South is six stories high, with blanked out windows, surrounded by parking lots. It couldn’t be more different from what was there before. I was dismayed when the federal government shut down all the jail farms. I wanted to do something with my time that would be a direct benefit to people in need. I came up with this idea as more and more people I knew were downsizing and needing to find a home for their books. I like the idea that a valuable resource that might just be thrown away can be put to use. It gives me great satisfaction to be involved in something that is both environmentally and socially useful.
All the best, Wilma