Free book program opens doors for inmates

Entering into Open Books second-hand bookstore is a risk Wednesday nights, when volunteers swarm for the weekly book packing.

The converted single family home on 1040 N Guillemard St. houses more than just second-hand Shakespeare at a discounted price. It offers a chance for personal growth for Florida inmates by providing them with free books through the Prison Book Program.

The store, which is operated entirely by volunteer labor, receives request letters from inmates and then uses the profits from book sales to mail the books.

Most bookstores are quiet, but not Open Books. Volunteers shout back and forth seeking titles to match requests as the shuffling of pages and ripping of packaging tape fills the air.

Posters celebrating the store’s free books for prisoners program plaster the walls. The back room, no bigger than the average walk-in closet, houses hundreds of donated books, sorted by topic stacked to the ceiling in shelves.

The room is elbow tight as people peruse the shelves for requests.

Volunteer Lauren Lewis said she is new to the packing crew, but glad to be involved.

“This is only my third time here,” she said. “I work for a law firm downtown, and part of the work that we do is criminal defense. So a lot of our clients wind up going off and serving time in prison. I thought this would be a cool place to kind of get a chance to help out people that are in similar situations some of our clients are in.”

Longtime volunteer Mike Oliver said these programs are more than just entertainment. Oliver was in prison years ago, and he said this program would have made a huge impact when he was incarcerated.

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