BOOKS TO PRISONERS
Local bookshop owner’s charity wins prize by Anna Arnone
Lee Humphries, owner of Printed Matter Bookshop in Queen’s Road, recently attended a ceremony in London to collect the top 2018 prize from the Longford Trust on behalf of Haven Distribution – Books to Prisoners, the charity he set up over two decades ago in 1996.
The Longford Trust was set up by former Labour politician and social reformer Lord Longford to give ‘second chances’ to convicted and imprisoned criminals to rebuild their lives through education. It offers scholarship programmes and other educational opportunities.
Humphries is a quiet, modest man who is justifiably proud of Haven, which sends a range of new books to inmates and was run on a shoestring for many years. He started it after hearing about an American radical publishing group called Left Bank which sought to get books into prisons. Humphries was writing to prisoners at the time, and they were telling him about the shortage of books in prisons, so he changed a small low cost DIY mail order distribution venture he had set up into what then became Haven – Books to Prisoners.
It took another couple of years for Humphries to get Haven set up as a charity after realising that he needed more than just the funding he’d been raising through his and his friends’ efforts in order to meet demand. He initially approached various publishers to get donations of books and then put together a catalogue from which inmates could choose a couple of books and a magazine every month. Haven started getting increasing requests for dictionaries and educational books. The charity then developed along the model of supplying educational books because prison libraries had such limited specific educational and reference material. Humphries wanted prisoners to have their own books that catered to their individual courses, which ranged from basic to masters level.
The charity received a boost when Kim Shearer, also involved with Haven from the early days and current Haven secretary, persuaded Benjamin Zephaniah to be their patron. Zephaniah, who also does his own work in prisons, put Haven in touch with one of the charity’s major and committed donors. The charity is still very small but it provides a vital service to inmates which is hugely important with the constantly burgeoning prison population. It gives inmates the opportunity to have their own books for private study in their cells. The charity still runs the catalogue comprised of new books which are donated to Haven by publishers.
Humphries is committed to his local Hastings community. He hosts regular, and varied, talks and events at Printed Matter. Leroy Smith, an ex-prisoner, spoke at Printed Matter about his book, his life, and the circumstances that led him to a life sentence and then to his reform. Humphries has also hosted local authors, and he recently held a second talk by Stuart Cosgrove, winner of the 2018 Penderyn Music Book Prize.
• Printed Matter is at 185 Queen’s Road, Hastings, or visit www.printedmatterhastings.co.uk
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