When I was incarcerated as a youth, the only thing that kept me sane at times was reading. Forced to serve a lengthy sentence, I lost hope on multiple occasions. My mind was either consumed with negativity or idle due to a lack of activity.

I sought out books that would help me grow and transition back into society as an adult male, but the books available to me were either fictional, outdated, or written for age groups far younger than mine. In short, the books didn’t possess any kind of value to me or my long-term goals.

I founded the Books to Incarcerated Youth Project in June 2017 to make a variety of books readily available for the youth at various Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities. Drawing from my own experience, I know firsthand what a difference a program like this can make in the lives of incarcerated youth.

?The project’s goal is to use books to improve literacy and reading skills, and thus further delinquent youth’s educations. Adolescents tend to be more impressionable, which is why a program like this can succeed in igniting in youth a passion for learning, and hopefully steer them away from returning to the system.

I started the project not only to better prepare youth for their return to society, but also to instill in them a sense of belief while others try to taint their reality.

When I was in juvenile detention, I remember correctional officers saying, “Mental chains are the hardest ones to break,” meaning that people have to consciously want change. In my program, I use that same phrase, but I’ve turn that negative connotation into a positive one. I believe that humans are a product of their thoughts, not their environment or current situation. I learned that by maintaining a sharp mind and keeping my thoughts healthy, I could serve my sentence with less stress.

This is the mindset I want to restore in youth facing or currently serving time: That their mental chains can’t be broken, and that that is a good thing.

Even though our base organization, Position of Power, is a nonprofit, we are neither seeking nor accepting monetary donations for this project. Instead we ask that supporters donate books, stamps, shipping boxes, packing tape, and envelopes.

We accept book donations by mail, but because shipping can be expensive, we strongly encourage supporters to donate at one of two area locations.

For donation spots, click here. For our shipping address, click here. 

Please email dietercantu@gmail.com prior to shipping or delivering if you have any questions. Books that cannot be used will be passed along to Half Price Books. For more information and book donation guidelines, click here.

Dieter Cantu is the executive director of Position of Power and a research fellow at Adalante U.S Education Leadership Fund, whose mission is to inspire the best and brightest Latino students to graduate...