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Donate a Book to a Prisoner

Project Overview

Collecting and donating books to prisoners in order to increase opportunities for self-empowerment, education and entertainment.

Identifying the Problem

As doctoral students focusing on criminal law, Kamil and Olena were deeply interested in Poland’s criminal justice system. Through their studies, work experience and extracurricular activities, they became acutely aware of the challenges and limitations faced by Poland’s prisoners. Kamil gained an intimate knowledge of these conditions through his correspondence with inmates, in which they shared complaints about prison conditions. Kamil and Olena shared a belief in the importance that reading plays for human development; books entertain us, broaden our knowledge and advance personal and professional development. Access to literature can be particularly useful for helping inmates prepare to be capable, productive members of society upon their release.

While there are Polish prison libraries, a lack of funding prevents inmates from having access to a wide range of books. Additionally, for the prisons struggling to provide basic necessities for prisoners, maintaining expansive prison libraries is not viewed as a pressing concern. Wanting to see more books in Polish prisons, Kamil and Olena decided to organize a book drive on their university campus.

Creating A Solution

Kamil and Olena began by contacting several Polish prisons to determine which facilities would be willing to accept book donations, and the parameters of such donations. Once they had identified a prison to which to send the books, they began organizing the actual book drive. They obtained permission from their university to set up a table at which students, faculty and staff could drop off donated books. They then created a poster advertising the event, and stuck it on bulletin boards around campus; the book drive was also advertised on Facebook. Kamil and Olena requested that people donate all types of books, as long as they were in good condition. 

While the response to the book drive was overwhelming positive, not everyone was supportive of the idea of donating books to prisoners. Some people believed that private citizens should not be supporting prisoners, who lived at the expense of the state, and that Kamil and Olena should instead support other social groups. Kamil and Olena used such criticism as an opportunity to discuss the importance of providing people with the chance to educate themselves while in prison. While not everyone was convinced, the book drive was a huge success. In a single day, Kamil and Olena received more than 70 donated books. The books were sent to a prison in New Wisnicz, providing the facility’s inmates with an opportunity to continue to broaden their knowledge and learn important skills. The head of the prison was grateful for the new books, and looked forward to adding them to the prison library.

Lessons Learned

The biggest challenge in orchestrating this project was communication with prisons. Kamil and Olena were faced with bureaucratic problems like prison staff not returning phone calls, not being interested in the book drive because it would involve extra work on their part, or requiring that only new books be donated. As such, Kamil and Olena advise others to give themselves plenty of time to coordinate with prison administrations. They also recommend that anyone looking to address a potentially controversial topic be prepared for criticism.


The costs associated with this project were very minimal. Kamil’s brother, a graphic designer, designed the poster free of charge, and Kamil and Olena paid about $5 to have the posters printed. The university’s Chair of Criminal Law covered the $16 cost of shipping the books.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

Poland Poland

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