Arlan Hess, owner of City Books, hopes that book donations will help inmates exercise their minds and get them through an especially challenging time.

By Jason Phox

Photo courtesy of City Books

Local Northside bookstore City Books recently partnered with Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Jailbreak by helping to develop the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center’s recreational library. 

Jailbreak is a coalition working to support people who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ).

City Books owner Arlan Hess explained that she hopes donating the books to the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center will help inmates exercise their minds while also giving them a sense of walking in someone else’s shoes during a challenging time.

Jailbreak works to provide transportation post-release; assistance with court fees and commissary; and connections to resources such as health care, emergency housing, and groceries for inmates post-release. 

According to Jailbreak’s website, the coalition “formed as a response to the horrendous conditions inside ACJ and as a response to the lack of resources formerly incarcerated people receive when they are re-entering society.”

ACJ reportedly informed inmates last November that, “books from the outside would no longer be allowed inside the jail.” While they later removed the ban, Jailbreak still aims to help inmates in ACJ and the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center gain better access to books. 

“I think providing inmates an hour of reading is just as important to provide someone with physical activity a day,” Hess remarked. “To prevent them from reading, I think it would be a dark stain on Shuman’s reputation if they did not develop a library when given the opportunity to do so.” 

Hess believes that the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center is not trying to prevent inmates from access to books, but rather that Shuman has not been providing them the opportunity.

City Books is currently accepting donations of gently used paperback books in a variety of genres that are reading level-appropriate, meaning junior high and middle school level or for ages 13 to 18, for the Shuman library. You can drop off books on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. at City Books, located at 908 Galveston Ave. Find more information at https://citybookspgh.com/shuman/.

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