Evanston bookstore partners with nonprofit to provide books to women in prison


(David Lee/The Daily Northwestern)

Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave. The Evanston book store collaborated with Chicago Books to Women in Prison, a nonprofit, to provide books to women inmates.

Catherine Henderson, Reporter

A local bookstore and nonprofit teamed up to educate and support prisoners through books, with the goal of preventing recidivism among women who are in prison.

Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Ave., launched the partnership this month with Chicago Books to Women in Prison to fill reading requests from inmates. Throughout October, the nonprofit aims to collect 200 books, said Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends & Beginnings.

Barrett said her bookstore creates opportunities for Evanston residents to get involved in social activism. Her partnership with CBWP opens up a new avenue for community members to engage with incarcerated populations, she said.

“We hear a lot of people telling us that books are some kind of endangered species,” Barrett said. “But if you think about being in prison where you aren’t going to have access to the internet, this old technology of a book is … some hope for a new life.”

The book drive supports both the store and women in prison, Barrett said. The store orders books from CBWP’s wish list, such as “Parenting from Prison: A Hands-On Guide for Incarcerated Parents,” she said.

During the book drive, customers can purchase items from Bookends & Beginnings with the intent that they go to the prison. The nonprofit then forwards the purchased books to incarcerated women in eight states across the country, including Illinois.

Evanston resident and CBWP volunteer Jackie Seaman said she partnered with Barrett to help organize the book drive. She said inmates often request dictionaries, GED prep books, occupational training manuals, puzzles and legal guidance books.

“They’re really looking forward to getting out,” Seaman said. “They’re investigating what possibilities might be out there for them.”

Vicki White, president of CBWP, said the small, poorly stocked library at the Logan Correctional Center near Lincoln, Illinois, came nowhere near serving the needs of prisoners.

“Our books make a big difference for women in prison,” White said. “It’s about becoming a stronger, more resilient, more self-aware person.”

White said books go a long way in educating the entire prison community. Women who receive packages share their books with about 13 or 14 other inmates, she said.

Melissa B., who is detained in an Indiana state facility, wrote to CBWP that the group was a “caring and generous service,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Daily.

“Chicago Books to Women in Prison has truly helped me a lot,” she wrote. “They prove that people out there care about those of us who are in prison. Each time I get a package with books from them in the mail, it means so much to me. The included handwritten note always puts a smile on my face.”

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated Nina Barrett’s title. Barrett is the sole owner of Bookends & Beginnings. The Daily regrets the error.

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