Books Through Bars

Produced by: 
Books Through Bars

Individual Film Price:

Higher Education Institutions & Government Agency DVD | $49.95
K-12 & Public Libraries DVD | $49.95
Home Video DVD License – Restrictions Apply | $5.95



Community Visions Compilation Price:

This video is available for purchase as part of a Community Visions Vol. 6 compilation DVD.

Higher Education Institutions & Government Agency DVD | $139.00
K-12 & Public Libraries DVD | $79.00
Home Video DVD License – Restrictions Apply | $20.00



Scribe Video Center Program:

The Community Visions program teaches documentary video-making skills to members of community organizations in Philadelphia, Chester and Camden (NJ). A powerful way to document community concerns, celebrate cultural diversity, and comment on the human condition, Community Visions is a part of Scribe’s mission to explore, develop and advance the use of video, film, audio and interactive technology as artistic tools and as tools for progressive social change.


Project Facilitators: Cheryl Hess & Anula Shetty


Film Summary:

What's a prisoner to do when learning is low on the penitentiary priority list? Because prisoners in American jails are not able to receive books from sources other than recognized publishers, bookstores, or other legitimate distributors, prisoners interested in self-education but without the financial resources to buy books had very limited access to literature of any kind. New Society Publishers began its free Books Through Bars program after it began receiving letters from indigent prisoners, and today distributes about 300 packages of donated books to individual prisoners, prison libraries, and halfway houses across the U.S. each month. It also sponsors regular public events relating to issues such as human rights, the war on drugs, and prison reform.

As a collectively run, all volunteer group, Books Through Bars is dedicated to promoting prisoners' rights and alternatives to the current system of incarceration. (Though one suspects that some of the volunteers featured in the video care more about literature in general and prisoner literacy in particular than the overthrow of the penal code.) The video makes a powerful case for the need to provide education for people who are in prison. Almost ten years after the documentary short was made, Books Through Bars continues to use the video regularly at fundraising house parties and organizational open houses.

Books Through Bars was founded in 1989 when an employee of New Society Publishers began receiving and answering book requests from indigent prisoners. Today, the group is comprised of 9 core collective members (including one member of the original collective) and nearly 20 occasional volunteers, receives approximately 1000 letters each month, and has received grants from Bread and Roses Community Fund, Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative, Resist Inc., Womens Way, the Funding Exchange, and the Puffin Foundation. Originally sponsored by the New Society Educational Foundation, Books Through Bars recently received 501(c)3 status.



February 26, 1998 | "Nobody's A Star: The uncommon power of Philadelphia's community video scene," by Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper


Public Screenings, Broadcasts and Festivals: 

May 3, 1998 | 25th Anniversary Athens International Film & Video Festival (Athens, OH)
May 7, 1998 | Shorts Program 2: Personal Explorations and Community Issues at Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema (Philadelphia, PA)
August 11 & 16, 2001 | Prison Breaks: Redemption, Revolution, and Reality at the Prince Music Theater (Philadelphia, PA)