July 25, 2014
Ithaca, NY 74°F | Clear

News

Student seeks to improve prisoner literacy rates

With 12 boxes of books waiting in a storage facility, IC Save the Books will soon begin its main initiative to send books to prisoners in New York state, only if the group is able to renew the lease on a storage facility that will expire at the end of March. Junior Kevin Walker created the Ithaca College student organization in January with the goal to maintain literacy rates in prisons, which is now coming to fruition.

In collaboration with three co-founders, junior Rachael Cohen, sophomore Samantha Holek and freshman Irma Perez, Walker said he created IC Save the Books to promote literacy as a human right. The students also want to honor Books Thru Bars, an Ithaca-based prisoner activist group operated by volunteers who believe education is important for those imprisoned. The organization closed in December because of the lack of volunteers.
Staff Writer Ciara Lucas spoke to Walker about beginning IC Save the Books, the club’s goals and the newly established program’s progress.

Ciara Lucas: What was your inspiration for founding IC Save the Books?

Kevin Walker: The inspiration came from Books Thru Bars, an organization in downtown Ithaca. After volunteering at the last mailing day for Books Thru Bars, myself and the three other co-founders put our collective minds together to create a student organization on campus with the same goals. IC Save the Books was the initial name we established. I guess you could say the rest was history.

CL: Did you have any difficulties beginning the organization?

KW: The huge obstacles that we are still having today are not so much getting people interested, but factors outside of membership. For example, long-term storage space has not been secured. There are about a dozen boxes of books reserved for us in a storage space with a lease that expires at the end of March. Figuring out where those books will be stored is a challenge. Additionally, packages are paid for by the pound, so it’s difficult to get an estimate on how many packages we will be able to send. The obstacles have been more about the logistics of having a mailing event, rather than having members that are interested. The wheels need to get turning in order to get to the point of being able to have an event. It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to see what happens.

CL: How does the club get books to send to prisoners?

KW: Right now we are holding on to books that Books Thru Bars have left over. However, those will run out, so our sources will most likely come from book drives. This will be an on-campus event because we know that students have books that they most likely will never read again. If we advertise it well, and have it around a time near a break, students could also bring books from home. That’s how our collection would be restored to a certain point.

CL: Did you receive any tips or guidance from the owner of Books Thru Bars about how to operate the club?

KW: One of the first things we did was meet with one of the primary officers of Books Thru Bars before we got out feet under us so we knew what to expect, what kind of hardships we would encounter and what major issues Books Thru Bars had while running the program. Primarily the issues were cost of storage, postage and volunteers. Another obstacle we were told to keep an eye on was people who don’t believe prisoners should receive books. It’s important to find those that are sympathetic to the cause and willing to help out. We want to avoid an audience that’s going to be hostile toward our goals.

CL: Why do you find it important to send books to prisoners?

KW: There are many prisoners who have an education level that’s barely elementary. Even sending them a book where they can learn a few words, or get an understanding of a concept that’s going to help them in the future, that to me is valuable because when or if they re-enter society, they will be better educated than they might have been when they entered. Perhaps they will have an understanding of what they did and what the consequences of their actions were on others. It’s possible that they could avoid being a repeat offender. If sending books helps get to that goal, then I think that’s extremely worthwhile.

CL: What do you see happening for IC Save the Books in the near future?

KW: It really is going to depend on if our proposed budget [to the Student Government Association] is going to go through. If we do get the proposed budget to go through, then we will have a book mailing toward the end of the semester. If that doesn’t occur, then the options start to get really narrow. We can try and hold a fundraiser, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll raise enough funds to have a book mailing. That might get us some more time for storage space — even that would be welcomed. If we could raise enough money to buy us storage space for at least the duration of summer break, that would be a good accomplishment and give us time to get the other wheels rolling.