Beacon’s Binnacle Books believes prisoners deserve page-turners, too.

By Rebecca Hardiman

We’re book people,” says writer and shopkeeper Mark Trecka of Binnacle Books, a tiny treasure of a new and used bookstore in Beacon, NY. “We’re curation-forward’,” he jokes. “There’s no filler here.” While its shelf space may be on the smaller size, Binnacle’s reach in the area is mighty: It sponsors a standalone community fridge, a mini food pantry and, most influentially, a thriving initiative called The Beacon Prison Books Project which connects thousands of incarcerated folks, both locally and across the Empire State, with books.  

The project, premised on honoring the dignity of prisoners, was an organic outgrowth of the Beacon Prison Rides Project which provides transport for loved ones visiting inmates at Beacon’s Fishkill Correctional. Now in its third year, the prison books program is pretty straightforward: The program sends postcards to the prison which inmates, including those in solitary confinement, send back with written requests for titles and Binnacle stocks them in a designated area in the shop. Local customers then sponsor costs and the books are shipped out throughout the state, upwards to
60 tomes per week.  

If you’re wondering what materials are in hot demand, the answer, Trecka says, is “Everything! Fantasy novels are popular, long involved series—which isn’t surprising if you’re locked up.” Also popular: romance and poetry, books about specific trades—plumbing, electricians—as well as books on history, racial injustice and incarceration. “It’s a really broad range, which isn’t remarkable—it just reflects the fact that they’re people like anyone else.”

The program’s impact on the incarcerated can’t be understated. For a largely forgotten population with limited access to reading material, the power of books to cope with the isolation and boredom of prison is immeasurable—and the recipients are emphatically grateful. Trecka says the store’s “inundated with thank-you notes. There’s so much gratitude.”

He recalls a particular request for a number of young adult titles usually targeted to preteen girls. The bookseller thought it a little unusual, but filled the order without judgment. Later, he received a thank-you letter from the prisoner explaining that the titles were the same ones his daughters had been reading. So when his girls came to visit, he could talk to them about books.

Now that’s definitely a book club even Oprah could get behind.

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