Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

Our Mission

Book‘Em is a non-profit organization based in Pittsburgh that sends reading and educational materials to prisoners across Pennsylvania.  Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people incarcerated in Pennsylvania by providing free access to educational materials, books and resources. With diminished budgets for under-stocked prison libraries, organizations such as ours are often the only means prisoners have of obtaining literary or reading material.  We believe that educating individuals during incarceration is an integral part of rehabilitation. By using the time in prison to prepare for re-entry into society, ex-offenders will have a greater chance at living a productive life and be less likely to revert to a criminal lifestyle.

What We've Achieved

  • Each month, Book’Em serves approximately 160 prisoners across 35 State and Federal prisons

  • We monthly mail an average of 450 pieces of reading material.

  • Since 2000 we have served approximately 33,000 prisoners throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.
— Malcolm X


Book‘Em was born in 2000 when founder Etta Cetera learned from an incarcerated friend of the nearly non-existent educational opportunities that U.S. prisons afford their prisoners. Not only was the library at her friend’s prison under-stocked, but it was impossible for inmates to request new materials or to receive books from friends and family. Upon learning more about the plight of prisoners who strive to self-educate, Etta found out that this lack of access to reading material was an extremely common scenario. She therefore set out to amend the educational deprivation that millions of imprisoned individuals suffer today.  With the counsel of a well-established books-to-prisoners program, Philadelphia Books Through Bars, Etta gained sponsorship from The Three Penny, a Pittsburgh bookstore.  With this sponsorship, Book‘Em gained permission from the U.S. prison system to send educational packages to prisoners.  Rapid growth due to community interest prompted Book‘Em to change its sponsor in 2002 to the Big Idea, an independent bookshop in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood. 

Since 2003, Book‘Em has been operating from the Thomas Merton Center, a community-based organizing center. The Merton Center sponsors many forward-thinking, progressive projects in the area, with an emphasis on peace and social justice.  From 4:00 to 6:00 on the first three Sundays of every month, volunteers respond to prisoner letters, selecting books that suit their needs and preparing the packages for mailing, in addition to making decisions. Volunteers propose additions or changes to the program and we decide as a group how to best implement those suggestions.

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.
— Angela Davis