AUSTIN (KXAN) — On East 12th Street sits an old night club turned into a gathering spot for neighbors and non-profits.
Next to the front door of Space 12 is a large, weathered wooden box covered in old white paint where anyone can donate books. When Dan Murphy went to unload it Monday morning, he noticed someone beat him to it. Four to 500 hardbacks and paperbacks were gone.
“It’s an extremely big hit,” said Murphy. “That is about a weeks worth of donations for us.”
The pieces of literature are in high demand.
“We get about 100 letters a day on average,” said Murphy flipping through a stack of long white envelopes. “The return addresses are from all over the state: Tennessee Colony, Lovelady, Beaumont, Humble and Huntsville just to name a few.”
What do they all have in common? They were written by state and federal prisoners across the state requesting something to read behind bars.
The letters are addressed to the Inside Books Project, an organization founded in 1998. The Austin program receives an average of 15,000 letters a year.
Shelves full of books line the inside of Space 12. ll the books on the shelves are ready to be shipped to someone in prison.
Like any book store, they’ve got all types or reading material: fiction, biographies, self-help, comic books, books in Spanish and best sellers. The most popular book requested? A dictionary.
“When you’re reading your other books if you come across a word you don’t know you can look it up,” said Murphy.
In the middle of the room are two tables covered with packages that are stacked high and ready to mail.
Twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday nights, volunteers scan the shelves to decide what to send, and include a handwritten response of encouragement.
“A lot of times you’ll come across a letter that says something like, ‘The letter you sent me was more important even than the books, and I really enjoyed the book as well,”‘ said Murphy.
Murphy is not interested in tracking down the person who stole the donated books; he just hopes more donations come pouring in to replace them.
This story was originally published by News 4 sister station KXAN, a Media General Contributing station.