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The Very Long Year

Andy Chan has volunteered with Book to Prisoners since 1994. This is the first in a series of anecdotes from our history to commemorate our 50th Anniversary .

Books to Prisoners has had many homes: at least 9 that we can remember. For much of our existence we have lived rent-free. This was as much for necessity as preference. For decades BTP was run on a shoestring. The core group of BTP volunteers never much loved fundraising – much preferring to focus on the mission of finding books and sending them out across the country. There are sometimes downsides, but usually a nonprofit offered a rent-free space with no strings attached is pretty lucky.

For several years in the 1990s BTP was donated space by Left Bank Books’ distribution arm, but as more radical book distributors sprang up and big chains took a massive bite out of the overall book market, Left Bank Distro decided to suspend operations. This suddenly put BTP in a real bind and at serious risk of becoming homeless. A couple of supporters – Bob & Janet – heard about our predicament. They had just bought a house in the Central District and had no immediate plans for their basement. Very generously they offered use of their basement to BTP for a year, to give us some breathing space.

Moving and setting up BTP is a mammoth task and a massive headache. Once we had built all our shelves and unboxed all our books, we just wanted to get stuck into the growing pile of prisoner requests. Which we proceeded to do for the next 7 years. At which point it began to dawn on us…we have definitely been in Bob & Janet’s basement for more than a year. Feeling slightly guilty and with no small trepidation, we started to look for a new space. Bob & Janet’s basement was our last rent-free space and we are eternally grateful to them for putting us up for a very long year.


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