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  • Writer's picturePerry Robinson

Introducing Books in a Box

By Perry Robinson, Special Projects Coordinator

Perry Robinson

As Book Harvest fast approaches our thirteenth birthday in 2024, a question persists: where are we not showing up? That is to say, where else can we show up in service to our dream of books for every child, support for every parent, and literacy for every community?

The Books in a Box pilot program was born in response to this question.

Books in a Box provides free books to kids with a parent who is incarcerated. There are more than 18,000 children with an incarcerated parent in North Carolina; one in 14 children in our state will experience parental incarceration.

It is a deeply held core value of Book Harvest to meet families where they are. For families experiencing the effects of incarceration, we do so by delivering new, high-interest books directly to their door. This year-long engagement consists of two mailings of 10 books each, for a total of 20 books added to each child’s home library.

We enroll children and families in the program with the help of Our Children’s Place and its Program Director Melissa Radcliff. Our Children’s Place is a statewide North Carolina-based nonprofit committed to the well-being of children of incarcerated and returning parents. Melissa, a fierce advocate for children and families, is a trusted colleague who has been working with Book Harvest for the past decade.

In addition to professional workshops, Melissa oversees parenting classes and Parent Days at prison and jail facilities across North Carolina. At the end of June, I had the opportunity to join a special Parent Day event at Sampson Correctional Institution and to enroll families in Books in a Box.

From the outside, the setting is as one would expect but still striking to see: high

fences topped with barbed wire and a watchtower looming overhead. What was even more impressive, however, was the effort that Melissa and the prison staff had put in to make the gathering space as welcoming as possible. The extra tables and chairs in a multipurpose room were pushed to the edges and the rest were outfitted with a variety of activities: board games, frames to decorate for family photos, art supplies, – and books, of course! After being escorted in and exchanging some too-long-delayed hugs and kisses, the six kids, ages five to sixteen, and four dads settled into their special day together.

Books and board games!

The games and laughter went uninterrupted until the warden wheeled in a cart full of burgers and hot dogs he had grilled for the group. For dessert, everyone decorated their own cookie with icing and sprinkles. Then came the bitter part of sweet: time to say goodbye. We gathered in a group to reflect on our favorite parts of the day. One boy kicked things off declaring that he was “grateful that I got to spend the day with my hero”. Each parent and child echoed a similar sentiment and shared a cherished moment from the day. With a bag full of mementos – decorated picture frames and painted treasure chests – the children made their way out of the building, through the gates, and into the parking lot. The dads stood and waved goodbye from inside the fences.

Painting and picture frame decorating!

The day served as a powerful reminder that each family is unique and every family deserves support. It is an honor to be able to pilot this program, and I hope that we can reach more children of incarcerated parents with their own home libraries in the year ahead.

Download the document below to learn more about Books in a Box. Email me at if you have questions or want to learn more!

Books in a Box one-pager
Download PDF • 2.99MB


Melissa Radcliff, Program Director at Our Children's Place

We are grateful to Melissa Radcliff for partnering with us to develop new avenues for building home libraries. In order to spotlight her and her work, I asked her a few questions.

What have you learned while working with children of incarcerated parents?

  • Where to start?! I'm reminded on a regular basis that many (most?) children of incarcerated parents love their parents and want a relationship. I've learned (and am reminded) that many people have never thought about children of incarcerated parents. It's not because they don't care, it's just that no one has ever asked them to think about children of incarcerated parents. I've also learned that while children of incarcerated parents may have a shared experience, they are individuals with their own feelings, reactions, and perspective. They are the experts!

What is the role of advocacy in this work?

  • To educate and raise awareness. To challenge ourselves, others, and systems, with respect and grace. To imagine what might be and to take steps to get there!

What is it that you’d like people to know about the work that you do?

  • I have an amazing, each-day-is-different job that I love! Working within a big system like our prison system can be tough. But I'd like to think we can focus on those little openings, opportunities, and pinpricks of light so we can move from "can't do" to "we'll consider." Seeing the lightbulb go off during a professional workshop, receiving a "we need more information" email, watching a child decorate a treasure box with his parent . . . that's the fuel for my tank!

How can other organizations support the work that you do?

  • Invite us to present to your group. Help support Parent Day. Follow us on social media.

Any additional questions or comments?

  • I've always been a reader and was fortunate to grow up in a house with books and a family who valued books and reading. I love that Books in a Box is yet one more way that Book Harvest is working to ensure all kids have that!


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