CHICAGO — Hundreds of coloring books were donated to a group that sends books to incarcerated women after it asked for help replenishing its supply.
The Ravenswood-based Books to Women in Prison sends all types of books for free to women held at Cook County Jail and in prisons throughout the United States, but coloring books are among the most sought-after items. The group’s coloring book supply was down to nothing in mid-July, though, and it turned to Twitter to ask for help.
The public responded quickly: More than 250 coloring books were sent to Books to Women in Prison after a Block Club Chicago story, said group President Vicki White. The group also received more than 100 books of other types, including ones on origami, drawing, legal topics and starting a business.
“The inflow of packages has slowed, but this is still about twice the number that we usually get in a week,” White said Tuesday. “The recent outpouring of support means we have many more books on the shelves that are rarely donated but frequently requested.”
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.
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)
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