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Prisoners staying in touch with 'reality' through book program

A volunteer group in Austin is making sure prisoners can read the books that interest them.

Volunteers with the Inside Books Project work to make sure prisoners get the type of books they are interested in.

“Prisoners don’t always get the help and outreach they probably should in the situations they’re in,” said Raegan Bass, a project coordinator with Inside Books Project.

Bass said she’s volunteered for a few years and said she’s seen the demand rise.

“I think we had a statistic a few years back that said we were only getting about 800 letters a month, and now we’re getting 2,000.”

Bass said prisoners write letters, asking for different genres or styles of books.

She explained volunteers then work to find the books each prisoner asked for and also write a note to each prisoner.

“We see a lot of letters come through of people telling us ‘thank you so much for writing the letter, not even my own family writes me anymore,’” Bass said, saying the hand-written notes make the project more special.

Bobby Dowdell agreed with Bass’ sentiments.

He spent four years in prison and wrote to Inside Books Project for different books to read.

“Political books, political science, anything that was non-fiction,” he said. “I wanted to stay in, well, I say reality.”

Dowdell showed up to volunteer for the first time on Sunday.

“I think it’s like an achievement for me,” he said. “It’s just really full circle for me to volunteer. Somebody helped me through my time, I can also help them through their time.”

Dowdell said he wants to use his experience to give hope to prisoners.

“I’ll let them know that I’ve been there, and to stay strong and continue to have hope,” Dowdell said. “Hopefully, one day they’ll be able to do what I’m doing, volunteer. If not here, somewhere, to help somebody else.”