College Classes in Prison

“This class made me feel human again. This class took me back into a world that was closed off for years. I want to thank this class for the opportunity to be Ricardo again.”

The Appalachian Prison Book Project, based in Morgantown, WV, began in 2004 with a handful of books being mailed into prisons. Word spread. More volunteers signed up. More donors gave. As of 2019, our growing organization of volunteers has sent more than 30,000 books — from textbooks to dictionaries to novels — to people in prisons and jails in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

A few years ago, we branched out with book clubs in men’s and women’s prisons where we’ve met remarkable thinkers, readers, writers, and artists.

Now, we are taking on our next big challenge: creating and supporting credit-bearing college courses for incarcerated students. And we need your help.

In prison especially, college classes generate hope, direction, and purpose. Many people begin to see a light ahead.  

In 2017, Professor Katy Ryan taught an English course inside a prison in West Virginia. At the end of the semester, one student wrote, “This class is a game-changer. It helps you build courage. You learn that everyone really does have purpose in life." 

Another wrote, “Justice and human progress never roll in on wheels of inevitability. We must work for it!”  

These students continue to inspire us. 

In addition to a college-in-prison program, we plan to create five college scholarships for formerly incarcerated people.     

Access to higher education can improve the economic trajectories of families and communities. When one family member goes to college, others often follow. APBP has seen the impact of the book clubs on individuals as well as on their children, spouses, and loved ones. 

Beyond these positive outcomes, educational programs also make prisons safer for those who live and work within them.

We are convinced that higher education has a critical role to play in moving our country away from mass incarceration.

Provide tuition, supplies, and books for 45 incarcerated students in 2020. Credit granted and course arranged through West Virginia University.

Stretch Goal: 
Provide tuition, supplies, and books for 90 incarcerated students in 2020 AND 2021. Credit granted and course arranged through West Virginia University.

2nd Stretch Goal:
Provide $1,000 scholarships to five formerly imprisoned college students.

Since 2004, APBP has mailed more than 30,000 books to people in prison in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland. We receive about 100 letters a week from people who are looking for something to read, to learn a new skill, to improve their reading comprehension, to become transported to a fictional world. Many prisons lack adequate libraries, and books can be a real lifeline to people doing time.

“Every time that I read a book,” one man wrote to us, “I learn something good from it. That increases my education and makes my life better and sometimes it enables me to help others.” 

APBP is funded entirely through donations and small grants, supporting the cost of postage, supplies and books. Volunteers include college students, teachers, librarians, writers, artists, workers, retirees, family members of incarcerated people, and many others who care about education and the freedom for all to access it.

In 2014, APBP expanded to offer book clubs in women’s and men’s prisons. Every other week, fifteen imprisoned members and four APBP volunteers meet to discuss books and work on writing projects. Inspired by the readings, members have created their own beautiful writing collections and performance scripts that share their voice with their families and those outside prison.

“I have a great deal of resolve and confidence in being able to complete a college-level class as well as meeting the challenges of freedom of expression which this English class promotes. I want to enroll in a college course and make an attempt to write commentaries for a major newspaper.” — James

Since our founding in 2004, APBP has evolved into a dynamic community that is responsive to the social crisis and economic costs of mass incarceration. Our work emanates from two interconnected premises: education is a basic human right, and engaging the community in educational justice efforts is a requisite component to building sustainable restorative justice models.

Mass incarceration divides our society into two worlds, inside and outside. APBP works against this division by providing books and educational opportunities to incarcerated people while also generating ways for volunteers and community groups to learn more about the legal and prison systems. We are convinced that education is essential to creating a culture that neither criminalizes people nor looks to a cage as a solution to social problems.

By mailing books, facilitating prison book clubs, and offering college courses in prison, APBP celebrates creative expression and defends the liberties that make it possible; champions the freedom to read and write, recognizing the power of literature to transform individuals and societies; and supports educational, vocational, and personal development for people who are locked up. For our volunteers, the work of responding to letters and facilitating prison education programs grounds national debate on mass incarceration in the lived experiences of those who know prison best.

Our organization envisions a future society in which we understand our interconnectedness and better perceive our mutual stakes in creating fair and just systems, and each facet of our work moves us towards this future by encouraging collaboration and dialogue across barriers and through walls.


Gifts of any size help us reach our goal of providing college courses in prison. We are very grateful for your support and will keep you updated on the campaign. You can also help by sharing the campaign with your friends.

Yes, APBP is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means that gifts made to the organization are tax deductible.

We are happy to send a notification of a gift to a loved one or their family. Please provide us with the recipients’ mailing or email address when you make a gift.

Email us at: [email redacted]. 

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Appalachian Prison Book Project
Morgantown, WV
Appalachian Prison Book Project Inc (Appalachian Prison Book Project)
Registered nonprofit
Donations are typically 100% tax deductible in the US.

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