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Appalachian Prison Book Project spreads holiday cheer, provides a light in the darkness for incarcerated Appalachians

This holiday season, Morgantown-based nonprofit Appalachian Prison Book Project (APBP) invites the community to join its mission to send books and supportive messages to individuals in prisons across Appalachia.

APBP was founded through WVU English Professor Katy Ryan’s 2004 course on history and literature of imprisonment. Students, faculty and the community came together to fundraise and gather books. After relocating to the Aull Center in 2006, APBP sent out its first book — and less than two decades later has mailed more than 65,000 books to incarcerated individuals in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

This Giving Tuesday, APBP invites the community to support its new “Sponsor an Incarcerated Reader” program. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, every $10 donation received will send a free book to an incarcerated individual in Appalachia. Donors are encouraged to include a personalized holiday note for the book recipients.

This marks APBP’s third year hosting this fundraiser, with this year’s goal set at 250 holiday messages and books for incarcerated Appalachians. The program originated during an errand run when APBP digital communications coordinator Lydia Welker was inspired by other charity fundraisers that encourage donors to write their name or a message on a slip of paper; plus, the season of giving is the perfect time to form connections and spread joy.

Books frequently requested by incarcerated individuals include reference books like dictionaries, almanacs and foreign language dictionaries; educational books, typically those that teach a trade, crafting, entrepreneurship; as well as fiction genres like mysteries and science fiction.

Recipients throughout the years have expressed the comfort and personal growth that reading has brought them during their time in prison, demonstrating APBP’s mission to provide educational opportunities and beacons of hope for those affected by mass incarceration in the United States.

“Since I am in a 9-by-12 cell 24/7 with no TV and Walkman, I have very little to do but read … I sleep 18 to 20 hours a day, give or take a few. And I have nine years to go. So, I want to learn a few things,” said one recipient from Virginia. 

“The Appalachian Prison Book Project has broaden[ed] my understanding. [By] providing books, the Appalachian Prison Book Project has provided myself; Information is power and power is information,” said another recipient from Virginia.

This fundraiser aims not only to send educational or entertaining books to incarcerated individuals, but also to form connections and spread seasonal joy to those who often are left without this support.

“The second goal is to send personalized messages to incarcerated people, remind them that they are not forgotten, spread holiday cheer and continue building bridges between people on the inside and people on the outside,” said Welker. “Recipients of these letters will not only get a free book but will also know that someone knows about them, cares about them and is thinking about them. We believe creating these connections across barriers and walls is essential to building a better world.”

In previous years, holiday notes have included encouraging messages that aimed to express support and bring happiness to what may be the darkest time of someone’s life.

“There are many folks on the outside wishing you peace & joy. Happy holidays from all of us,” reads one message.

“I’m sorry the system sucks. I hope this book brings you joy! We are fighting for your rights today and always,” reads another.

To support APBP’s Sponsor an Incarcerated Reader fundraiser and help reach the $2,500 goal, visit To support APBP throughout the year, consider volunteering, donating books or making monetary donations. Visit the website,, for more information on the mission and community opportunities.

“The best way to support this fundraiser is to spread the word,” said Welker. “It’s OK if you can’t donate; we would be grateful if you shared information about Sponsor an Incarcerated Reader with folks in your community.”