BLACKSBURG, Va. – Multiple student organizations at Virginia Tech are using books to help connect with people who are incarcerated throughout Virginia.
Virginia Tech Professor Brian Britt is the director of the Virginia Tech Prison Book Project. He believed students would be able to learn and connect more with the people who are behind bars here in Virginia.
“I was hoping students would learn something about how our incarceration system works in Virginia and something about conditions and life — there also about the voices and the individuals who are in facilities in Virginia,” Britt said.
During what the students call a ‘”wrapping party,” the group starts out by reading letters written by the individuals who are incarcerated. Sometimes they ask for specific books and other times it’s a surprise.
Carly Johnson does the project as a field study for her major.
“It’s very diverse interest. I think that we’re helping them in discovering things they didn’t think they were interested in before because they can literally ask us for anything and we will find it for them,” Johnson said.
The students rely on partnerships with other organizations who donate books. However, one particular relationship they rely on is with Blacksburg Books. Britt says the project is set up so people can donate books that the store has purchased particularly for the project. Britt believes there have been over 400 donations in total.
“The project has developed in a way kind of like a fast-growing small business. We found a lot of partners very quickly,” Britt said.
The letters themselves are up to the individual who writes it. They are able to tell as much or as little as they want. Johnson says this project is about much more than just the books themselves.
“I think that education is a human right and I think for non-incarcerated people it’s very easy for the prison system to be out of sight out of mind. I think it’s easy to forget that there are people out there that are just as complex as you and I,” Johnson said.
In return to the letter, the students themselves will write a small note back to the incarcerated individuals.
“It’s easy for them to I think imagine how it might feel to get a personalized package in the mail. Especially if you’re not getting a lot of contact with the outside world,” Britt said.
During Tuesday’s “wrapping party,” the project delivered the 900th book since it started back in 2021.