A recent UCLA book drive motivated students, faculty and staff to collect or donate more than 1,500 books for the library of a state women's prison in Southern California. The first of the books have now begun to arrive at the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Chino.
Organized by the Justice Work Group and the Department of African American Studies, the Bruin Prison Book Drive placed donation bins in academic departments and residential units as well as hosted poetry slam events. The drive ran through February.
Susila Gurusami, a sociology Ph.D. student and an organizer of the drive, noted that the drive was not an isolated event. "It was instead within this broader framework of … increas[ing] opportunities for education and general well-being both while people are in prison … and then when they're released."
The book drive grew out of conversations the women at CIW had late last year about their educational needs with African American studies assistant professor Bryonn Bain, the Justice Work Group, and other UCLA and community leaders. Bain joined UCLA faculty last year after having been specifically recruited to develop prison education opportunities and innovative justice initiatives, he said.
Residential Life collected the most books overall with more than 800. UCLA Extension led academic units with more than 500 books. The winning units will be honored at an event at CIW later this year, Bain said.
"There's an incredible enthusiasm and excitement [at the prison] for the expansion of their library," Bain added. "I think this was a great gesture of good faith."
The women incarcerated at CIW also identified access to UCLA-quality classes as a pressing need at the prison, Bain said. That idea led to a pilot class being held at the prison this quarter called “Narratives of Change,” a critical thinking, writing and performance course taught by Bain. Both UCLA students and students currently serving sentences at CIW are taking the class for credit. The incarcerated students will receive UCLA credit for the course as concurrent enrollment students through UCLA Extension.