Books Inside History

BI-CLAY3992_3-EditThe foreshadowing of what was to become Books Inside began in 2008 when Toby Lafferty (left) began volunteering in the libraries at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Initially the search was simply to find local sources of books to replace those worn by many readings. The first regular donations came from the Assistance League Thrift store, then from Rotary clubs, and soon from individuals who heard about the project. From the outset a long time friend, Susan Raycraft ("SuRay", below), living in California, began to also collect books and used her ease on the online book exchange site Paperback Swap to locate specific requests. By the end of 2009 Books Inside had incorporated and a year later had been given official 501(c)3 nonprofit status. Becoming a nonprofit was the first big turning point. A letter was sent to Utah jails letting them know that books were available and soon Books Inside was taking or mailing books throughout the state. SuRay

As word spread, local Salt Lake businesses offered to be drop-off locations for donated books, and the first volunteer -- bright, vivacious, and energized Janene -- joined the Utah team while Peggy added her creativity and hard work joining SuRay in California. It was not long before jails in other states heard about the books available and by the end of 2013 Books Inside was mailing out 100 boxes of books a year in addition to the ones transported to more local facilities. 

2014 marked another significant change. By this time Books Inside had five Utah volunteers and had been working out of a storage unit which was becoming increasingly difficult as the number of books being processed and mailed increased. The storage unit was often dark and lanterns were used on the gray days. Cold, rain and wind made some of the work days slow to a snail's pace. Finally in January 2014, Books Inside rented a small office space in addition to the storage location. Now, Books Inside volunteers luxuriate at tables with light and heat in what has been dubbed the "bookroom." Production increased dramatically. In 2014, 200 boxes were mailed to 32 facilities in 8 states and the number of Utah volunteers grew to 10. The best estimate of the number of people Books Inside is reaching in these facilities is 16,000, a number that is growing as Books Inside does.

Our thanks to Jarvis Jay Masters for inspiring and supporting Books Inside. His book, Finding Freedom: Writings From Death Row provides a clear and accessible example of how a shift in perspective can transform life experiences wherever we find ourselves.