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Coloring Book Donations Needed For Women In Prison, Group Says

Coloring books can help women in prison relax, get inspired and connect with their children during visits.

Karen Hilberg, a volunteer with Chicago Books to Women in Prison, shelves books donations. [Provided]
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RAVENSWOOD — A group that sends books to imprisoned women has run out of highly sought-after coloring books and is asking for help getting more.

Coloring books are among the most requested from prisoners when they reach out to the organization, called Books to Women in Prison, said group President Vicki White. The group sends books for free to incarcerated women throughout the United States, including to women being held at Cook County Jail.

The group gets the books through donations, but it recently ran out of coloring books and hasn’t been able to fill those requests.

The coloring books are popular for the same reasons in prison as they are outside of it, White said: They let women relax, they reduce anxiety and they help pass the time.

“Concentrating on something like that can help someone focus inward, especially in what might be a hectic environment, and do something that’s a little creative,” White said.

And, of course, the books can also help women in prison in unique ways: Putting up finished pictures or sharing them can give color to “what’s probably a pretty drab environment,” and moms can connect with their children during visits by coloring together, White said. About 70 percent of women in prison are parents to small children, White said.

“It really fills a real human need,” White said.

The Ravenswood-based Books to Women in Prison “easily” sends 500 to 600 coloring books a year to women in prison. The topics of the books vary, though ones with mandala designs and inspirational quotes are popular, White said.

The women who receive coloring books are responsible for getting their tool of choice, be it markers, crayons or colored pencils. Some buy them from their prison commissary or receive them from recreation programs, White said.

Books to Women in Prison doesn’t just work with coloring books. Its volunteers try to track down whatever book an imprisoned woman requests, be it a mystery, self-help book, informational text, graphic novel or test review guide — or anything else.

The books are sent in bundles of three and include a personalized note from a volunteer with Books to Women in Prison. The packages include another order form so women can easily request more books, though the group does have a three-month backlog because it receives so many orders.

“Many women tell us that note really makes their day,” White said.

“You have no clue how much your simple gestures of kindness affect us,” one Illinois woman wrote back to the group after receiving a bundle of books and a note. “To some you are the only thing they have to look forward to.”

How to help Books to Women in Prison:
Click here to read about what books the organization accepts and needs.
• Books can be donated to the group by dropping them off 2-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at 4511 N. Hermitage Ave. or by shipping them to Chicago Books to Women in Prison c/o RFUMC at 4511 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago IL 60640
• You can buy books through the group’s Amazon wishlist (though the group does encourage people to shop locally)

Chris Guzaitis, a volunteer with Books to Women in Prison, looks at the group’s shelf of coloring books. The group is now out of coloring books, which are in high demand. [Provided]
Miriam Berman, a volunteer with Books to Women in Prison, writes a personal note to go with a bundle of books. The group’s members send notes to all the imprisoned women who request books. [Provided]