Open Books has opened their doors once again. The independent, volunteer-run store has changed locations a handful of times and hosted a myriad of dedicated workers since its opening years ago. The current location on Guillemard Street downtown has been closed since the flooding that took place in April and finally re-opened their doors on June 8. However, three months off the grid really put the store behind as far as responding to inmate requests for their Prison Book Project and garnering donations used to purchase postage to mail the requested books.
“Our store was nearly destroyed in the recent floods, and we lost approximately one-third of our stock or roughly 3,000 books,” Scott Satterwhite, a long-time volunteer of the store, said.
Satterwhite has been volunteering and working with prison book donations for over 10 years. He became involved because he wanted to help those who were disenfranchised and alienated from the community.
“When we help these prisoners, we are often the only people in the outside world that show them any kindness,” Satterwhite said. “Nearly every single person in prison will eventually come back to our communities and neighborhoods, and it only makes sense that we would not want to alienate them any further. The smallest acts of kindness can go a long way with people.”
After the April storm, Satterwhite had to close the store because the walls were so damaged that it would not have been safe for people to be inside.
It took a little over two months to complete the construction on the building. During that time, many people from the community chose to donate books to the store in an attempt to help replenish the stock of books that were destroyed from the flood waters.
“Seeing this many people come together to help us, physically and financially, made us feel much more connected to the community,” Satterwhite said. “I certainly wouldn’t wish to go through this again, and I know everyone else would agree, but I feel like the bookstore is actually much better since the flood.”
Much of the replenished stock will go to responding to the 600 plus prisoner book requests that have been piling up while the store has been closed. Having enough books to send should no longer be a problem—but finding the money for postage is.
Florida law prohibits inmates from receiving books from friends or family, making places like Open Books their only avenue for acquiring reading materials.
“The Prison Book Project actually proceeds Open Books. We started the project in 2000, but then it was operated out of Subterranean Books,” Satterwhite said. “The only way prisoners can get books in the state of Florida is either through a publisher or a bookstore. When Subterranean Books closed, we had a choice: either end the project or open our own store.”
All of the sales and donations at Open Books go directly to the Prison Book Project.
“Our greatest expense by far is postage. The way donations work is when people donate books, we sort them for either the Prison Book Project or the bookstore,” Satterwhite said. “If they go to the bookstore, that means we think we can sell them and possibly make extra money to pay for postage.”
Open Book accepts any and all books donations, given the extremely diverse range of personal requests they get from prisoners all over the state.
“They ask for something, and if we have it, we give it to them,” Satterwhite said. “It’s that simple.”
Simple. Until the back order of requests that have now been filled are estimated to cost around $5,000 in shipping.
“We have had a number of incredibly generous donations recently, but since we had to pay for all the building expenses in our store, we are in need of fund replenishment,” Satterwhite said. “One of our volunteers has recently set up an IndieGoGo campaign for us and we are banking on the success of that to help with our upcoming Labor Day Prison Book Packathon.
Another Open Books volunteer, John Rickmon, is the one who set up the IndieGoGo site. The goal for the campaign is $5,000 with only about $500 raised so far. The campaign will close on Sept. 3, leaving less than a week to make up the difference.
“There are currently 600 plus orders backed up, and they keep coming in every day,” Rickmon said. “At a cost of $4 a package, we can ship these 600 packages, and have 600 packages capital as a cushion. When we realize our goal, we will be operating in the black again, since taking the flood right on the chin financially wiped us out.”
The goal is achievable, but it is a hefty sum of money to come up with under such short time constraints. If the monetary goal isn’t reached, the store will ship as many books as possible with whatever funds are available.
“Plan B is we operate day-to-day, which we have been sadly doing since April,” Rickmon said. “Many of these inmates will get out of prison and one might argue that not having books is why they ended up there in the first place.”
1040 N Guillemard St.
How To Help: The Labor Day Prison Book Packathon fundraiser on IndieGoGo will continue to take donations through Sept. 3 and offers several different choices for contributions ranging from $4-$25. indiegogo.com/projects/pcola-open-books-labor-day-prison-book-packathon