stack of paperback books

Religion Behind Bars: A Request to Create a Rastafarian Library

An overwhelming and exciting majority of the hundreds of letters we receive each week are directly from incarcerated people in Appalachia, but not all of our correspondence is from the people behind bars. Sometimes, we get letters or emails from prison personnel.

In July, we received a letter from a Chaplin at a prison in Virginia. She was writing on behalf of a group in the S2 Cluster (a cluster is usually a group of housing units) who are trying to create a Rastafarian section in the Chapel Library.

Rastafari is a religious movement that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s and has since been adopted by people around the globe. There are approximately 1 million Rastafarians worldwide; however, prison libraries—when they exist—tend to have only literature for popular religions. When Rastafari’s following is compared to Christianity (2.4 billion followers), Islam (1.8 billion followers), and Hinduism (1.1 billion followers), it’s no surprise that there is a scarcity of Rastafarian resources at the prison.

Jumping Through Hoops: Supporting Prison Libraries

We’re always happy to send a box of books to help start or enhance a prison library, but the process can differ significantly among prisons.

In this case, there were several steps that had to be followed by both APBP and the Chaplin:

  1. Chaplin sent a letter to APBP detailing the request and donation requirements.
  2. APBP responded to the Chaplin’s letter with a list of items and their estimated costs/values.
  3. Chaplin received our list of materials and secured the required administrative approval.
  4. Chaplin wrote to APBP and forwarded the approval of the donation.
  5. APBP posted the list of books to our Facebook page and requested donations.
  6. Donors purchased books and sent them to APBP.
  7. APBP forwarded the books to the Chaplin at the prison’s address.

Sending books into prisons is never straightforward, but it’s worth it in the end.

List of Donated Rastafarian Books

When we got our list of books approved, APBP shared the items in a Facebook post. As always, our community jumped to the challenge.

Here are the items we requested:

  • Dean MacNeil, The Bible and Bob Marley: Half the Story Has Never Been Told ($18.38)
  • Empress Yuajah, Rastafari: Beliefs & Principles ($19.00)
  • G. Maragh, The Promised Key: The Sublime Essence of Rastafari ($4.95)
  • Gerald Hausman, The Kebra Nagast: The Lost Bible of Rastafarian Wisdom and Faith from Ethiopia and Jamaica ($16.23)
  • Haile Selassie, The Wise Mind of Emperor Haile Selassie ($9.90)
  • Holy Bible: Rastafari Edition ($34.89)
  • Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey ($18.50)
  • Shepherd Robert Athlyi Rogers, The Holy Piby ($8.99)

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to send a box containing all the requested books.

Support the Appalachian Prison Book Project

At APBP, we rely on donations and volunteers to provide books and educational opportunities to people on the inside, whether through prison libraries or individual requests. Get involved today to help us continue challenging mass incarceration.

Written by Lydia Welker

Lydia is a writer and editor based in the Midwest.

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