Students from organizations at the University of Florida Levin College of Law are collecting books for prisoners.
The organizations, Phi Alpha Delta and the Black Law Students Association, are requesting donations from a wide range of genres. However, books detailing the making of any kind of weapon, drugs or alcohol, methods of escape, pornography or the promotion of physical violence will not be allowed, according to the Admissible Reading Material section of the Florida Administrative Code.
Andrej Milic, Phi Alpha Delta’s president, said this is the law fraternity’s second prison book drive and the first year teaming up with the Black Law Students Association.
“We want to do our part to make sure (they) have resources (and) different kinds of books to be able to better themselves if they want to,” Milic said.
Brian Lawrence, president of BLSA, said his committee is focusing on prisoner reform and the restoration of civil rights in the hope that non-violent felons might one day regain the right to vote.
All donations will be sent to Clifford Gionet, the president of Books for Prisons of Florida. After sorting out the books, an administrator from a North Florida correctional facility will collect the donations. Due to confidentiality, Gionet said he cannot disclose the name of the administrator or the facility.
Over the past few years, budget cuts have caused the number of facilities that receive donations to decrease from 23 to just one. Every three to four months, Gionet said around one thousand books will be donated to that prison. This amounts to about one book for every three inmates.
“This is not a percentage of the population that anyone is worried about, unless it happens to be your family member,” Gionet said. “There is no public outcry to help these people.”
Jacobi Porter, a 34-year-old convicted felon, agrees and said he wishes there were more books available during his incarceration. The inmates had a few book donations from “family or friends from the outside,” Porter said.Other than that, though, few were reading.
Porter said he barely read because the books were usually children’s literature, but he was more interested in self-help.
Porter wanted resources that would improve his writing and increase his legal vocabulary to help defend his case, but he said it could be difficult to get into the law library.
“Some are just not interested in books,” Porter said. “But they still need to be available so when the interest is sparked, they have the opportunity to read.”
According to the Alachua County Clerk of Court, Porter was charged with trafficking MDMA in 2001. Porter said he spent about 16 months in four different local facilities.
Alex Taylor, chaplaincy services administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections, said he works directly with inmates who are veracious readers.
“We have three types of libraries,” he said. “All of them stay busy.”
A general purpose library houses literature, a law library is used for legal purposes and a chapel library offers religious material. Regardless of whether the books will be used, Taylor said, donations remind inmates people outside the prison walls care about them.
McKinley Lewis, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, said reading also helps reduce a person’s likelihood of returning to a life of crime.
During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, inmates borrowed just over 1 million books and periodicals from the facility’s libraries, Lewis said in an email.
Phi Alpha Delta and the Black Law Students Association have collected roughly 150 books thus far, and the book drive will continue until mid-November.
“This is an under-served community,” Milic said. “At the end of the day, they are human beings.”