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Whatever the subject, volunteers with the Appalachian Prison Book Project believe they hold the power to unlock worlds.
From a small room in a historic house next to the Morgantown Public Library, they meticulously organize requests, exchanging letters to find just the right read and get permission from prison administrators while simultaneously scrambling to raise money for shipping.
The process takes months, and the restrictions are many: Spiral-bound books are banned, their spines seen as potential weapons. Hardcovers are discouraged. Some institutions refuse books altogether, often with no explanation.
“You would think it’s not that big a deal. We’re just sending out used books, free of charge, to people in prison,” says Dominique Bruno, a doctoral student at West Virginia University who serves as outreach coordinator. “But it is as hard to get something into a prison as it is to get out of one.”