Gratitude from Strangers
In this season of Thanksgiving, I am writing to thank you on behalf of people you will probably never meet. In the past month, I have delivered over 1,000 books to the library system for the Arizona Department of Corrections, and many of these books have come from you.
There are several things about your gifts that have spiritual significance and are deserving of focus and appreciation. There is a clear Biblical mandate that we visit the prisoner, and you have responded to that by offering Arizona inmates hours of respect and companionship through reading your shared books. We are also asked to give anonymously, and I have been very touched to open my office door and see large boxes and bags of books placed there anonymously with the clear understanding they will be delivered to the prisons in Arizona.
The fact of the matter is inmates are not a “popular” or “trendy” focus for philanthropy or even compassion. Many people have the opinion “lock 'em up and throw away the key.” Therefore, there are virtually no donations to the prison libraries and there are no state funds available to replenish empty shelves. Jesus reminds us that we are to visit the prisoner and to consider them part of our spiritual family.
The law of the land states that incarceration, or separation from society, is in and of itself the punishment for conviction of a crime. Once incarcerated, inmates are paying the price for their misdeeds. Jesus reminds us that it is not our place to condemn, judge or dismiss our wider church, and Jesus reminds us that prisons are our wider church.
From a compassionate point of view, we share a big wide world of reading when we donate our books, and many of us consider reading to be a spiritual experience. Interestingly, the staff of the Department of Corrections considers it a security issue, because they view an inmate who is reading as an inmate who is not causing trouble. Either view is evidence of the importance of books being available to inmates.
The reading level of inmates is from the inability to read to Ph.D.. Some inmates have read every book in their prison library, and some inmates read to others who are illiterate. Some inmates find what they read to be life changing and others simply escape for a few hours while enjoying a good yarn. Some inmates find employment in prison libraries. Most of the books are used until they fall apart.
I thank all of you who have shared your books. Books are friends, and offer invaluable companionship. You have reached out and created relationships with strangers, and you have followed Jesus' mandate to visit the prisoner. On behalf of each inmate who opens your books, I thank you.
If you would care to donate books to the Arizona Department of Corrections libraries, just leave them in the office, and I will deliver them personally. For your generosity, I give thanks, and wish you all the blessings of the Thanksgiving season.