Nearly a decade ago, Reed College student Leslie Zukor began a fascinating project. She knew that most prison libraries were full of religious books, often donated by church groups, and she wanted to offer prisoners an alternative. So she contacted a number of atheist authors, many of whom donated their books to the cause, and began sending boxes of freethought books to prisons across the country:
To say the project was a success would be an understatement. For many prisoners used to reading the Bible and books about Jesus because there were just no other options, it was a breath of fresh to get their hands on something like The God Delusion. Ultimately, before the project slowed down due to things like ever-increasing shipping costs, Zukor said she had sent out approximately 1,650 books to a variety of prison-donating organizations across the country.
Today, it thrills me to announce that the Center for Inquiry is resurrecting the program and also coordinating a pen-pal program between inmates and volunteers:
The Freethought Books Project, an initiative to provide prisoners with books on science and secular thought, is being taken on by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), an international secular humanist think tank and advocacy organization.
“These individuals want access to books and ideas based in rationality, science, and skepticism — not religious dogma,” said project coordinator Sarah Kaiser. “By providing books, as well as connections through the pen pal network, we offer prisoners much-needed ties to the outside world and open minds to the wonders of science and critical thinking.”
I asked Leslie Zukor what she thought about the new leadership (and, in a sense, giving up her baby), and she sent along this message:
I’m excited to be able to pass the Freethought Books Project on to the Center For Inquiry. CFI is an intellectual powerhouse and has unparalleled access to the thinkers in the freethought movement. I could not think of a better organization to expose inmates to the power of non-theism, scientific inquiry, and secular values… I’m looking forward to the [project] providing a secular antidote to the faith-based literature that is all too often pushed on prisoners, under the guise of rehabilitation.
If you would like to donate books or money or become a pen-pal to an inmate, you can do so right here.