I recently worked on a design project for A.R.E. Prison Outreach that offered the opportunity to read letters from prisoners who had received books from our outreach program. Truly you cannot read these letters and walk away from them without feeling some emotion: overwhelmed, ashamed, humble. At least I couldn’t.
Overwhelmed, because these poor inmates (and yes, let us not forget that they are incarcerated for a reason) are starved for spiritual material to read and so grateful for what we can send them that it was alien to me for I am able to buy books anywhere, anytime, and on any subject matter that I want with no censure and no control over my choices by someone in authority.
Ashamed, because sometimes I forget to thank God for the education I received and my positive circumstances in life.
Humble, because these people ask for so little and are so grateful for any crumb they can get and our trifling gripes about everyday circumstances pale next to their circumstances.
When I was organizing and sorting out the letters in the beginning of this project, at some point they began to become less than mere pieces of paper with handwriting in varying levels of literacy. They took on a life of their own, and became the inmates themselves, grabbing whatever was handy at the time to write upon. So many of the letters expressed gratitude and regret that they could not help A.R.E. in return in any way because they were indigent. One inmate burst into tears, he said, when he saw how much the postage cost. He couldn’t believe that someone could care that much about him. Many of them had aspirations to go out into the world and do good of some kind when they were released from prison, to be the soul that Edgar Cayce said that each of us can be.
It also became personal for me, because reading the titles of books that the inmates would be in awe over were A.R.E. Press books that I had designed and laid out over the years. As I worked on each one, I would hope that it would somehow reach out to the reader in whatever way that they needed. I would always try to keep my vibrational levels positive so as not to cause any negative energy.
The inmates’ top most favorite book is Bruce McArthur’s Your Life: Why It Is the Way it Is and What You Can Do About It. I had to laugh, because to this day, that book remains one of the most labor-intensive books that I have ever worked on.
I had no idea, until I worked on this project with all of these heart-felt letters just how profoundly important A.R.E.’s Prison Outreach Program really is, or the impact that it has made upon so many lives. Not to mention, my own.
For more than 40 years, A.R.E.'s Prison Outreach Program has provided free spiritual books to inmates, chaplains, and prison libraries. Each year, nearly 10,000 adult and juvenile inmates in all 50 states are given hope, inspiration, and the ability to transform their lives one book at a time!