URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – CU Books to Prisoners is exactly what it sounds like. People who are incarcerated can write letters to them asking for books, and their letters are always answered.

“What the general public thinks prisoners are is often not totally true at all. And I think that’s important,” volunteer Susan Hill said.

Like a handful of other volunteers, she’s a retired librarian. They all say when you read letters from prisoners every day, it changes your attitude about them.

“Many of them have just made big mistakes. They know it. And they’re trying to do self-improvement,” volunteer Priscilla Christians said.

She said it’s a joy to see them request educational books, and it felt especially important to get those books to prisons during the pandemic.

“They tell us, especially during COVID, how isolated they are in their cells… 23 and a half hours a day,” Christians said.

Volunteers say libraries already weren’t very accessible in prisons, even before they were put on lockdown. So, it was extra important to give prisoners stories to pass the time.

“A couple of people have written and said: ‘this is my last stamp, I can’t get to the commissary because they won’t let us move,'” Hill said.

And those books have been extra meaningful to the people who receive them.

“You get thanks in every letter you get. ‘You don’t know what these books mean to us,’ is a constant phrase,” Hill said.

Without donations from the community and the volunteers to ship them, many prisoners would have no access to the books they want to read, even when the libraries are open. Hill said the prison system doesn’t spend much money stocking their own shelves.

“The books in the libraries came from what we sent. So yeah, they love it.”

They’re planning a benefit book sale for April 9, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Independent Media Center. The money raised will help cover shipping costs. If you’re interested in donating, they said they could always use some extra fantasy, business and basic math books.