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Postcards for the Pokey
June 28, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

My little brother is currently in jail, and will likely be staying there or in a similar facility for quite a while. He is only allowed to receive postcards, and softcover books mailed from Amazon or B&N. If either of these items violate the byzantine regulations (details contained within), they will not reach him. What are some creative things that are basically just pieces of paper (no paint, stickers, double layers, etc) I can send as postcards? What are some books that won’t be taken away for sex, drug, gang, etc content you’d recommend for a 23 year old male who never really read for pleasure, recently earned his GED, and likes Hunter S. Thompson?

POSTCARDS:
- I have a pile of touristy postcards, but since I’m sending 1-2 a day I’m quickly running out. What stores sell postcards in Chicago, Illinois? Any interesting online vendors?
- The jail recommends buying a package of cardstock and cutting it down to the permitted sizes. What are some other materials I could use to keep it interesting? Cereal boxes?
- I can send items to my mom, who lives in the state and can visit him; she can drop items in the on-site mail drop. These items will be accepted without a stamp provided that the address is still written on it. My brother tells me that it is common for people to drop photographs with addresses written on the back as “postcards.” What are some other ideas like this? What should I take photos of?
- What are some ways I can make sending postcards every single day easier on myself? For example, I bought a little plastic pocket-folder perfectly sized to hold postcards & a booklet of stamps, so I can keep some extras in my messenger bag at all times for quick written-on-the-bus notes. I found out that the post office sometimes sells little booklets of postage-paid postcards. I love the little “sketchbooks” of postcard-sized watercolor/etc paper you can buy at art supply stores.
- What are some interesting things I can send instead of just “Hi how are you this is what I did today love you”? Hand-drawn comics? Little watercolor paintings? Quotes from famous figures? Connect the dots? Riddles? Jokes?

BOOKS
- The only book he’s specifically requested so far is “The Rum Diaries” by HST, which was sent back to my mom for sexual content.
- He specifically said "no self help books."
- The only book I remember him loving in high school was “The Color Purple.” He recently read through all the Harry Potter novels in jail.
- I have no shame about sending him young adult novels; his reading level probably isn’t all that much higher, and heck, I still read them sometimes. No shame.
- He was never a voracious reader, so he likely missed a lot of classics. What would be interesting/funny/fast-paced and not too dry, boring, dense or difficult?
- Has anyone ever worked in a prison who has an idea how they determine censorship? We’re guessing that Rum Diaries was either rejected on the title or maybe someone had seen the movie; if I sent, say, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (an example of the kind of book I think he’d enjoy but probably can’t send), how would they determine that it is inappropriate?
- I think he would enjoy comic books and graphic novels.
- If there are puzzle/activity books, like Sudoku, that are way cooler and less lame than Sudoku, that would be rad to know about as well.

When I was a teenager in a residential treatment center, my little brother bought me Kid Koala’s first comic book, Nufonia Must Fall, that I’d been looking forward to for months with his own money and sent it to me. It was one of the few bright moments in one of the most difficult times of my life. I love him very much, and I owe him.

Since I would be dying of curiosity if I read this question, the charges are drug-related. He’s made many mistakes but hasn’t hurt anyone but himself. Thank you for your help.

Rules For Sending Postcards:

1.As of October 4, 2010, postcards will be the only acceptable form of incoming mail for inmates in custody at all Ventura County Sheriff 's Office jail facilities. Postcards must be no smaller than 4 x 6 inches and no larger than 6 x 11 inches (US Post Office standards).
2.Incoming postcards must be delivered via US Postal Service, a commercially licensed carrier (i.e., FedEx, UPS, etc.) or collected from a jail public lobby drop box to be accepted. Incoming postcards must be properly addressed with the inmate’s name and booking number, and mailed to: PO Box 6929, Ventura, CA 93006. All incoming correspondence, including postcards, must have a legible, return address to be processed within the jail facilities. Booking numbers may be obtained by clicking here, or calling 805 654 3335.
3.Any of the following will cause incoming mail to be returned to the sender or placed directly into an inmate’s property:
•Postcards that have been altered from their original form, including added layering, backing, or wrappings.
•Postcards marked with paint, crayon, glitter, labels, cloth, string, watermarks, stains or stickers (excluding US postage stamps).
•Postcards with any perceived bio-hazard (i.e. lipstick, gloss, scents, etc.)
•Postcards depicting nudity, obscenities, suggestive images, or other offensive materials.
•Postcards depicting weapons, gang references, criminal activity, codes, or markings.
•Postcards depicting or containing writings, images or references that may incite violence, riot, racism, or threaten the security of any Ventura County jail facility.
•Not mentioned in the official rules: they cut the stamps off the corners of the postcards before giving them to the inmate.


Rules for Sending Books

Inmates may only receive softbound books sent directly from the publisher, Amazon.com, or Barnes and Noble.com. There is a limit of three (3) books that may be sent at one time. Bibles are included in this restriction. If an inmate would like a religious book (Bible, Koran, etc.), a request may be submitted to the Chaplain and one will be provided to the inmate. No hard, leather, spiral bound or plastic covered books will be accepted. Books sent from a publisher must have a proof of purchase. Books sent to an inmate must include a letter or receipt on the organization’s letterhead stating the book was donated. If any portion of the book order is unacceptable, the entire order will be returned to sender.
posted by Juliet Banana to Writing & Language (100 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
He into sci-fi, fantasy, or just genre fiction in general? Because there are metric tons' worth of paperbacks in those genres. He may not be much of a reader now, but he's got nothing but time on his hands. A few Grisham/Star Wars/fantasy novels might help him pass the time, and they're pretty unlikely to be turned away. HST is definitely pushing things a bit, but mainstream genre fiction is pretty bland.
posted by valkyryn at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the sci-fi/fantasy vein, try Ender's Game, or Terry Pratchett's books? Very absorbing, not at all graphic.
posted by mlle valentine at 11:34 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Miyazaki graphic novels?
posted by yarly at 11:34 AM on June 28, 2012


I'd suggest anything written by Larry Niven or Robert Heinlein.
posted by SMPA at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2012


I have never been in prison but was bedridden at one time and largely housebound for a really long time. Take photos when you are out and about. Write something on the back about what you were doing, why you thought it was interesting, etc. I used to be just starved for a taste of life beyond the walls of my apartment. Even small things that you take for granted can be a big deal for someone severely sensorily deprived in that manner -- and also mentally starved. Some recent discussion elsewhere remarked on the overwhelming boredom of prison and that people sleep the day away for lack of anything better to do.

I also might take photographs of doorknobs and door handles and write about where it was -- a restaurant, a friend's house, etc. I saw a piece on probably "Sixty Minutes" many years ago about someone in prison. The one detail that stuck with me was a comment about there being no door knobs in prison because everything is gated. This was something remarked on in a very powerful way. I remember nothing else about the piece, just that when this guy left prison, he had not touched a doorknob in many years and that it was a big deal to him to return to the world of doorknobs.
posted by Michele in California at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Have a look at "The Lightning Thief," first in a series. You know your brother best, of course, but I think this book and its sequels share a lot of the sensibilities with the "Harry Potter" series. Bonus: These books are found in middle school libraries, and seem unlikely to be deemed inappropriate. Good on you for doing this for your brother.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know that you can get photos in Post Card size from Snapfish and places like that. Your local drugstore with photo developing can probably help with that too.

You might want to scrounge some antique/junk stores for old post cards to mail, those could be fun.

You can buy blank post cards from the post office and doodle little comics in colored pencil on the front.

I'd recommend Heinlien books, Space Cadet, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land. Any of them really.

A Wrinkle in Time is another good one.

What about Hunger Games? Too violent?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is just silly, but great reads!

I liked the Star Trek novels once upon a time.

Dan Jenkins wrote some cute books. Full of swearing and stuff, but Semi-Touch, Baja Oklahoma, and Limo were hilarious!

I wish your brother luck. With support like yours he's got a real good chance.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Might seem a little childish to him if he's all about Hunter S Thompson right now, but Bone is engrossing, funny and sweet.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:37 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


One series I got through to a system with similar guidelines was the Varley Mars series.

I understand the sentiment behind wanting to send him a postcard or something every day, but can he realistically hold on to the accumulation of that daily fare? Books he can trade or sell off.

That aside, buy a pack of plain post cards from the post office and just write a little scrapling of something today, like haiku or slo-mo Twitter.

*hugs* I've had friends in on similar circumstance, this is awesome what you're doing for him.
posted by tilde at 11:37 AM on June 28, 2012


The Lightning Thief series might be great. Also Hunger Games? Is that too subversive? (There's no sex or drugs, but the violence might be an issue.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:38 AM on June 28, 2012


If he might enjoy nonfiction, I would definitely recommend Into Thin Air.

Postcard idea: do you have friends/family around the country (or internationally) who might be willing to send a few postcards from where they are? So part of the fun would be receiving them from a variety of locales... Miami one day, Vancouver the next, etc.
posted by scody at 11:38 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


How about the Chronicles of Narnia series? Tale of Despereux?
posted by mamabear at 11:38 AM on June 28, 2012


I work sometimes in a prison school with guys your brother's age.

Professional sports-related books like biographies are good.

Get him lots of magazine subscriptions. They are cheap and come regularly in the mail. He'll like that.

Don't think artsy, quirky or obscure. Things that he and the guys around him could enjoy are best, in my opinion.
posted by vincele at 11:40 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd stick to YA mostly because they are likely to pass. Hunger Games, any of Scott Westerfeld's series, Lev Grossman's Magicians series (just two at the moment). You could probably get away with Stephen King's Dark Tower series.

Maybe a big compilation of old westerns or sci-fi?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're not really allowed to censor the content of the books! Get in touch with local prisoner's rights groups, or maybe the ACLU.
posted by mareli at 11:41 AM on June 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


There are lots of postcard books on Amazon and elsewhere, sometimes for super cheap.

As for books, send him the Dresden Files.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:41 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chronicle Books sells some booklets of cute/funny/cool postcards.

I have this one and the cards are hilarious in a bizarre, deadpan way (that would not appeal to everybody).
posted by enlarged to show texture at 11:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're not really allowed to censor the content of the books! Get in touch with local prisoner's rights groups, or maybe the ACLU.

I was also under the impression that this is, generally, the case. Given that a number of prisons are or have become private fiefdoms for the guys in charge, you may or may not have any luck getting this to change without the help of a big scary acronym group.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2012


If he enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I'd suggest also the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. And possibly The Hunger Games, if they don't deem it too violent. They're classified as young adult though, so maybe they'll pass.

If he liked The Color Purple, he also might like The Help. Maybe some Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Shirley Jackson. And if he likes Hunter S. Thompson then some authors I'd suggest are Jack Kerouac (On the Road), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five), perhaps even some Steinbeck too. All of these authors and books are a little bit more "classic" leaning and are taught in high school, so are not as likely to be censored. Definitely all worth reading.
posted by erstwhile at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think autobiographical, and family, comics of the day would be really nice. These can be hilarious and heartwarming even if you're not the most skilled artist! Especially from family get-togethers and holidays, and about inside jokes you might have, or strange habits you've always teased your mother about... anything to keep him connected.

I think Hunger Games would be great, and The Davinci Code - one of those almost-universal bestsellers! Twilight? Twilight might be too sexy. Something like Kurt Vonnegut might appeal to his sense of the absurd. What about the Sherlock Holmes stories? Those are classics and very easy to read.

I think the photos idea is great - if you have instagram, you can do Postagram to just send them by mail to him - maybe strange signs, outfits, license plates you see?

Good luck! You are an amazing sister!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2012


I just read A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols which might fit the bill. It details a race to sail non-stop around the world, and is suspenseful and engrossing; the reading level is fairly easy and the content is benign but engaging. More daredevilry than gangs/sex/etc.

When I had a loved one in a similar situation I sent him The Count of Monte Cristo and Papillon, among others, although I don't know how well either would be received with the rules you detail above, or if the reading level/content would appeal to your brother. Eyes of the Dragon by Steven King also has similar themes but might be more suited to him, given the info you provide.
posted by stellaluna at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2012


More in the YA sci-fi realm - check out Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus series, as well as his other book Heroes of the Valley. Wonderful reads, nothing graphic.
posted by 9000condiments at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Indian in the Cupboard series are probably too easy, but still a good story, and it continues through at least a couple of books. If the hunger games is too violent, try the author's earlier series, Gregor the Overlander - there are five books, and they are just fantastic. The Outsiders, maybe the Maze Runner series. I don't know, would the Stand be outside the rules? I definitely recommend Steinbeck too. Maybe The Magic of Reality (if it's out in paperback) or A Short History of Nearly Everything - a lot of Bill Bryson's would be good.
posted by lemniskate at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2012


I'd probably go for classics but ones that are easy to read. John Steinbeck springs to mind - meaningful, engrossing stories that would probably get past the censors. The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men would be good. Or you could try George Orwell. I'm thinking that 1984 would be too subversive maybe (though certainly worth a try), but Coming Up for Air should get through.

Also, you sound like a wonderful sister, but don't be too hard on yourself. I'm sure your brother wouldn't mind postcards a couple of times a week, because every day is a hell of a lot and you might not be able to sustain it. If you can't, that's ok. You'll still be an amazing sister.
posted by hazyjane at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe try The Magicians, by Lev Grossman? It's sort of Harry Potter for slightly older people. Ish.
posted by Decani at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I got into collecting postcards of the Adirondacks for a little while in a half assed way. eBay has many sellers for postcards that will be interesting and reasonably priced. You can get them for a buck or two a postcard.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:55 AM on June 28, 2012


Can you draw at all? Even very poorly? I think that if I were bored and missed my loved ones, I'd really enjoy receiving a serial comic, with a new installment every few days. Make up a story, or choose a treasured piece of family lore, and draw a cartoon of it, and then send him a new panel on a postcard every few days. That both gives him something to look forward to and reminds him that he's still connected to the larger world filled with people who care about him.
posted by decathecting at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I volunteer with a group that sends books to prisons. While mareli is totally right that censorship is not allowed in theory, the practice is very, very different.

One of the things I've noticed is that while people do request fictional books, more requests come in for non-fiction, and especially types of non-fiction that allow you to spend a lot more time thinking, learning, etc. per book. Some suggestions:

-General reference, including thesauri, dictionaries, vocabulary builders, atlases, almanacs, etc. Being inside means no Google.

-Foreign language. Would he be interested in learning Spanish or some other language? (Sign language is sometimes not allowed, so that one's tricky.)

-Interesting books about the world: Bill Bryson, Oliver Sacks, Jon Ronson, that sort of thing. Accessible books that also let you learn something. Secret Life of Henrietta Lacks, Brief History of Time, 1491. Anything pop-sci or pop-hist. That sort of thing.

-If he was ever a DnD player, the DnD manuals are quite a popular request. Manga and comic books and graphic novels are, too.

-Art books: Books with good reproductions of great art, or how-to books about learning how to draw. Note that books with reproductions of nudes do sometimes get censored, though.

-Chess, if he'd be at all interested in playing. We get a lot of requests for chess books.

Also, do you know how many books he's allowed to have at one time? Many prisons place restrictions on this.
posted by pie ninja at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


Seconding the Hunger Games & Maze Runner series. Also, Absolutely True Tales of a Part-Time Indian. The Stand, by Stephen King. I'd say Charles Bukowski but he might be too much of a degenerate to get by the censors.
posted by lyssabee at 11:57 AM on June 28, 2012


They're not really allowed to censor the content of the books! Get in touch with local prisoner's rights groups, or maybe the ACLU

Federal Bureau of Prison regulations state that prisons can ban anything deemed "detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." Which, in practice, has led to widespread censorship in prisons all over the country.

I totally agree that this shouldn't be the case. But given that it is the case, the OP needs to stay within the particular regulations -- fair or not -- that she's been presented with if she wants to get reading material to her brother without causing him unneccessary hassle or hardship in jail (and believe me, if some jail official decides they want to hassle him for something deemed contraband that his sister sends him, they will).
posted by scody at 11:59 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can you draw at all? Even very poorly?

I can actually draw pretty well. Not realistically, but I have a few comics published.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2012


Check out the Dover Thrift Editions @ Amazon. Many classics, little books, start at one $ something.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:04 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


In terms of finding out what books are likely to be censored, I would try contacting/volunteering at one of the many organizations which send books to prisoners. In NY, there is Books Through Bars, which I've volunteered at a number of times, but it looks like in Chicago there is Midwest Books to Prisoners. It seems their website is defunct, but they were previously linked to Quimby's Bookstore. (FWIW I'm terrible at googling, you may have better luck.) If it's near you, it may be worth stopping in and asking if they still hold Midwest Books to Prisoners there, or where you may find it. Volunteers there usually know a lot about specific restrictions for books, and I've always found that volunteering for a few hours is a pretty great thing to do--there are plenty of prisoners who aren't as lucky to have an awesome sister like you.

As for specific books, seconding Philip Pullman. Maybe Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston? Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood? Some Kurt Vonnegut?

On preview, maybe pie ninja is better informed than me on an organization that may be up and running in Chicago.
posted by dysh at 12:05 PM on June 28, 2012


I agree that Kurt Vonnegut would be perfect. So easy to read and understand, but also with a good point. If I were stuck in prison, I would definitely want some Vonnegut.
posted by barnoley at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My brother sent me a series of letters once with hand-done comic-y illustrations for his day and mine - me being chased by a giant block of tofu when I'd said I was sick of eating tofu, etc. It sounds like you're better at drawing than he was, and they were still Hilarious to me. I found them recently - saved for the last 20 years and innumerable moves because they meant so much. So, yes, draw and doodle and illustrate! Make comics that are one frame to a postcard - they don't have to elaborate, just fun.

Good on you for doing this!
posted by ldthomps at 12:07 PM on June 28, 2012


Can you get sections of a larger picture printed on multiple postcards, then send them to him one at a time, kind of like a puzzle? If it's scenic, maybe it's something he could put up on his wall? (Completely not sure if that's allowed.)

Also: seconding ebay for postcards. You can buy them in big mixed lots if you like, or get themed ones, like movies or national parks or other things. I collect them and I've done this; actually, if you'd like to MeMail me I might be able to dig up a bunch at my mom's house to send you if you'd like.
posted by alynnk at 12:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sticking with YA, Harry Potter-like books, I really enjoyed Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. There are nine books in the original series (so it would keep him reading for a while), beginning with So You Want To Be A Wizard and three in a spinoff series with cats as the protagonists. Website detailing all the books in both series.
posted by likeso at 12:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Moo postcards! Moo postcards! Order 20 postcards, upload 20 photos, and each postcard will be different. Assuming you hae a digital camera, this makes sending him snaps from family events or whatever really really easy.

Also: word search postcards (1, 2, 3 make your own!) You can also send word search, sodoku and puzzle books from Amazon. If any of these are a hit, there is an almost unlimited supply of each type.

Also, at this point I'd be learning to play chess by post.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:13 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


If he liked "The Color Purple," try him on Toni Morrison's "Beloved."
posted by hermitosis at 12:18 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


The restrictions are so totally dependent on the individual prisons or jails involved that it's really hard to get a feel for the restrictions (and the program I work with doesn't actually send books to California -- I was assuming this is the Ventura County in CA?). Also, most of the books that get returned to us don't even come with a reason why, which is crazy frustrating.

I don't see Ventura County listed on this page, although maybe I am looking for the wrong name.

Some prisons will allow anything, even hardcovers. Some prisons don't allow basic reference stuff like dictionaries, legal information, or trade skills. It's hugely variable, and the guidelines can be stuff like "one time this mail guy thought this looked bad, and it failed on appeal because the prisoner wasn't allowed to actually have the book to make the appeal, so now we don't allow this book at any prison in Texas" (seriously).

If it's helpful, here's a link to Prison Book Programs across the US. It looks like there are programs in Illinois, although a couple are specialized (policital books, books for women).
posted by pie ninja at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


an organization that may be up and running in Chicago.


In case you do want to do a local check, I'd recommend Chicago Books to Women in Prison, where someone probably would have the knowledge you seek about what's allowed if there is a common censored/not censored list

Also, they are awesome.

Not exactly what you were asking, but I do know that when I had family in the CA system, he really appreciated lined paper (like filler, not in notebooks, which weren't allowed) so that he could write back as well as just write in general. (And this particular brother-in-law wasn't someone who was much of a writer before that.)

I'll try to come up with some book recommendations too.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:23 PM on June 28, 2012


What I've done before for friends and the like is to draw one really big picture over the blank sides of many notecards (like a 5x5 rectangle or something) and then send them out one by one to be pieced back together puzzle-like. (To execute, I just carefully tape them together, hang up on the wall, and use my projector to blow up a picture I like, since I'm not good at drawing large-scale. I have a small projector if you'd like to borrow it, but I know you're much better at drawing than I am.) It's fun because the first few come and you're like what the heck is this, but then you finally get one that connects and you realize what's going on.

My brother(who is in his early 20s, not a voracious reader, and is a generally a nice kid who also makes a lot of mistakes)'s favorite books are Old Yeller, All Quiet on the Western Front, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Magus. They're not books that I especially like, and they're not books I would have expected him to like, but he liked them nonetheless.
posted by phunniemee at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Take photos of random letters. The K in a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket, for example. Then he has to collect them and figure out what they spell out: HANG IN THERE, for example.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:27 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Penguin, McSweeneys, DC and Pixar both have boxes of 100 postcards for about $15 each. Alternating among those would be interesting, for both him and you.

The Penguin postcards have the dual purpose of proving a good suggestion for an inexpensive paperback that probably would not be censored.
posted by hmo at 12:29 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tarzan and other Edgar Rice Burroughs. Classic escapist literature.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2012


I bet your brother might read more challenging books than he did on the outside. It's so boring in there.
posted by latkes at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he like's Hunter S. Thompson, how about Hemingway? Lots of the same adventerous spirit, drinking, etc., but I'd think they'll be less likely to censor the "Classics" from an earlier era.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"likes", I am not a grocer.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hell... MeMail me his address and I'll send him some Hemingway.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 12:45 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bill Brysons books. Non fiction but a fun light read, he did a lot of travel ones in Europe & the US early on but has progressed to some interesting history/science books.

Terry Pratchett if he likes Sci Fi fantasy. They started out as fun YA but sort of progressed into more adult as the series went on. Advantage is he has written a tonne of books so you can send him one a week for 6 months before you'd run out easily and most of his early ones aren't too long and they are light and funny unless you want to read between the lines.

The Dresden File series.

You could make up a postcard template on your computer and just print them out as you need them onto card stock. If you can draw, add a quick sketch on the front and you are ready to go. I got a photo turned into a postcard at one of the photo developing sites years ago, but I can't remember if they stuck the address/writing section on or printed it on but that might be something to look into.
posted by wwax at 12:48 PM on June 28, 2012


The above offer stands for a postcard from Dubai, United Arab Emirates... from a former Ventura County resident. I'm looking at the stamps as I speak. They have a lovely falcon on them.
posted by ambient2 at 12:50 PM on June 28, 2012


Here is a bunch of suggestions based on what he already has read or liked:

-The Bluest Eye
-The Autobiography of Malcolm X (not sure if they would censor this)
-Brown Girl, Brownstones
-The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank's diary)
-The Giver
-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Also, don't forget about pop lit! It's popular because it's easier to read, fun, and entertaining. I would absolutely send him the Da Vinci Code for sure and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo although that might get censored.
posted by cairdeas at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Games Magazine is great and full of pencil puzzles like Sudoku of varying types and difficulty levels -- can he get magazine subscriptions? This would be a top suggestion, if so.

For postcards, you could send him the question part of a riddle one day, and the answer the following day. (I have lists of some in my profile here)

Getting a postcard a day, even if it just has boring news about what you ate for breakfast, is going to be so great for him. I can't emphasize this enough - even if you feel like you have nothing to say, draw a little doodle or write a line about the weather or whatever and send it anyway.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would be delighted to send your brother a postcard from Ireland. I can post it at the same time I post the ones I have owed le filles du coldchef for the past two years. (I am a tragic correspondent.) If you want to MeMail me his prison address, I will actually get organised to do this.

I take it that since the stamps are trimmed off before he gets it, it would be helpful to say "Hello from ___!" on the card?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:21 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


•Postcards depicting weapons, gang references, criminal activity, codes, or markings.

Please be aware that it's up to prison officials to determine what is or is not gang code or markings. For instance, let's say you draw a little picture of a cat in a tree, and you put a moon and star in the sky. If the star is thought by prison officials to be a gang sign (and it may well actually be one!), your postcard may not get through and/or your brother may get in trouble. Pelican Bay here in California is notorious for tossing prisoners into the SHU for gang affiliation on the basis of stuff like that, and not letting them out of solitary until they rat out fellow gang members. Which they might not have because they aren't in a gang - they just had a picture of something that was a "gang sign."
posted by rtha at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would be happy to send a postcard from San Francisco, if you think he might like one. MeMail me the address, if so.
posted by trip and a half at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2012


I really like decathecting's idea of telling a story over time. Family lore, ok, but I say fantastical fiction with a hero (who has a devoted sibling) and serial adventures. It will make your job easier (you won't be struggling to meaningfully describe today's breakfast), it will give your brother something to anticipate each day or every few days, and it will create a nice little bond between you.

I will send a postcard from Appalachian Trail country if you want to memail me his address.
posted by headnsouth at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest

- Catch-22
- A Prayer for Owen Meany
- Cannery Row

Are there any nostalgic children's books he liked? Something like Stuart Little or the Trumpet of the Swan?

I'd also be happy to send a postcard from scenic Columbus, OH.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:46 PM on June 28, 2012


I'd offer to send one from L.A., but since he's just up the road in Ventura, not sure how thrilling that would be. But if you memail me his relevant info, I'd be happy to see if one of my friends in New Zealand would send him one!
posted by scody at 1:49 PM on June 28, 2012


You can often get all kinds of free postcards at quimby's in Chicago (just watch for weird content).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:54 PM on June 28, 2012


I am doing a reading project on political prisoners. Maybe something in this category will be suitable? Unfortunately many are out of print, but it looks like Nelson Mandela's autobiography is available new from Amazon in softcover. Natan Sharansky was a Soviet dissident who spent nine years in prison; his memoir Fear No Evil is very inspiring and not a difficult read. Fear No Evil also seems to be available new in paperback.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 1:57 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


One more thought I just had about what you can write him on a daily basis. When I was embarking on cancer treatment, one of the technicians at the hospital told me: "every day you will be presented with a treasure. You don't even have to look for it. Just know it will be there." It was a great method of getting thorugh a long, rough time, and I've tried to adopt that as a general way of looking at the world ever since. So what if one of your daily postcards is a line or two about that day's "treasure" you stumble upon? Might be a neat way to think of something unusual/funny/sweet/sublime to share with him, plus it might help him keep positive and look for the small treasures in his life during this hard time, too.
posted by scody at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nthing Philip Pullman's Golden Compass series, but with the caveat that if he's very religious, he may not like it. If he's an atheist or enjoys discussing religion, he may like it more. I'll also Nth Vonnegut, and the Count of Monte Cristo. Ursula LeGuin's EarthSea series are also engaging fantasy and fairly easy to read. I wonder if Octavia Butler's Kindred would appeal to him? It does have some violence but I can't imagine it being censored.

What about Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics? They're so detailed you could spend a lot of time with them. It's been ten years since I read them, so I don't remember if they contain anything censor-unfriendly, but I was 15/16 at the time and don't recall being shocked or disturbed or hiding them from my parents/teachers.

Here's a list of graphic novel recommendations--you might spot something he would be interested in on this list.
posted by snorkmaiden at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Check antique stores for lots of old postcards, or do an ebay search. Something like this implies you can get >100 postcards for <$10. Maybe picture-postcards of the boardwalk at Newport Beach isn't *relevant* but it's at least as interesting as pictures of flowers, and the total randomness might be fun.
posted by aimedwander at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2012


The Great Gatsby was Hunter S. Thompson's favorite novel. I just reread it, and I think it should be okay, censor-wise.

I read the Earthsea Trilogy when I was a kid. They were my parent's books, though. Classic, well written fantasy novels that aren't too long. I've reread them almost a dozen times.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2012


Just a note for people who may use this question as reference for the future: many vintage/antique postcards are smaller than 4X6. I have a pretty big collection of them, but they get rejected for not meeting the size requirement minimum.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2012


How about Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian? If he likes it, he can pass a lot of time reading the other 19 books in the series.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 2:45 PM on June 28, 2012


What about Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics? They're so detailed you could spend a lot of time with them. It's been ten years since I read them, so I don't remember if they contain anything censor-unfriendly

I re-read the early series a few years ago, and there is a storyline in The Doll's House about serial killers that may run afoul of the censors.
posted by scody at 2:47 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My sister once mailed me a postcard sized piece of Birch bark. Written in marker on it was, "How to make your own Birch Bark Canoe, fold in half long way and sew short ends together."
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stephen King, likely mainstream enough to go through unbothered. Give him The Talisman to start with.

There are lots of printable boardgames out there. One can easily have a cardboard set of Carcassonne for example. That's one side of your postcard right there.
posted by Iteki at 4:11 PM on June 28, 2012


Treasure Island. The Swiss Family Robinson. Also, I wonder if this question would be helpful?
posted by Dasein at 4:11 PM on June 28, 2012


In my area, there's a big used bookstore that frequently has new postcards (loose, bound in books, and in boxes) for super cheap. You can also just take the front off a regular greeting card and address it on the blank side of the front (does that make sense?) and stick a stamp on it. If you memail me your address I will send you some postcards to use.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:18 PM on June 28, 2012


How about a collectible card game? Send 1 card a day. The post office will send stuff like that as long as you tape an address label and a stamp on it. Not sure how it would fly with the jail tho'. Bet it would be fun if you could get it through, and it would be some real cheap entertainment. Heck, you could send carcassone through, one tile at a time. Games, and anticipation of a new treat daily would really break the monotony.
posted by thelastcamel at 4:41 PM on June 28, 2012


Since there will be so much uncertainty about which postcards will get to him and how long he'll be able to keep them, one idea would be to save scans of all your postcards before you send them. When he gets out of prison, you could give him the file or an album of printed copies.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 4:56 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooo, another classic/adventure along the same vein of The Swiss Family Robinson (good one Dasein!) is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Tom Sawyer for sure. I loooooooved those when I was 12. How about mysteries? Classic Hardy Boys could be fun. He might get razzed about that, but I bet somebody would want to borrow 'em. How about a weightlifting book in paperback, one that utilizes a bodyweight exercise program? I'm trying to think of things that might spawn "activities," since I realized the card game idea would never work (postcards must be 4 x 6). Would tarot cards get through one at a time? I've seen an arty pack or two that come in 4 x 6, and you can play with those to while away the time. (Please, for the love of god, don't inflict Heinlein on him.) If he likes pulpy sci-fi, I'd suggest Mike Resnick (anything at all), or SM Stirling, or even Leo Frankowski (if you want to get realllly cheesy). Karen Traviss is fun and good (get her non-game/tv show stuff), or Lois McMaster Bujold's stuff for a quirky, unexpected space hero. If he likes fantasy, Robin Hobb is good, and unexpected. None of this stuff is hard to read or has a high reading level. Have you thought about poetry? It's one of the things I never thought I'd get into until my mid-twenties. Does he like magical realism? Isabel Allende's Zorro is easy to read and might get him hooked on non-standard-white-guy classics.

I could do this forever, but I gotta get back to moving. Ping me if any of this sounds good, and I'll riff on whatever caught your fancy.
posted by thelastcamel at 5:27 PM on June 28, 2012


Steven King (I hate his fiction) has a GREAT book called "On Writing" that is just hysterical (poison ivy on the balls? Say no more...). It's autobiographical. (Ok, I said more).

How about cutting up maps as post cards? You can get the stiff ones at a map store that would hold up to mailing better, and you could send him maps of places he's been or especially places he wants to go someday. Preparation for fun times to come.
posted by thelastcamel at 5:32 PM on June 28, 2012


Some book suggestions - these are a bit all over the place in terms of genre but they are things I have genuinely enjoyed lately and may interest your brother.

- Michael Pryor's Laws of Magic series.
- Eragon/Inheritance series
- The Life of Pi
- Roald Dahl's biographical works: Boy - Tales Of Childhood and Going Solo
- Gerald Durrell's My Family And Other Animals (I really, really enjoyed this)
posted by latch24 at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


thelastcamel: I think maps are a great idea, but I can just read the mind of some bored prison official: PLANNED BREAKOUT RENDEZVOUS!

OP, memail me and I'll send you some Idaho postcards (some funny, some not)
posted by BlueHorse at 6:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Too funny about the maps, BlueHorse. Dang, I need to think inside the box, apparently.

(I've also read Gerald Durrell, and if your brother likes animals, I second latch24's recommendation James Heriott is funny, too.)

This is a great thread, and is providing much-needed rest breaks in between packing up my library for the move.
posted by thelastcamel at 6:35 PM on June 28, 2012


A book on paper airplanes, especially ones that circle back to you, or go out and flip back to you, folded out of regular copier paper. The Gliding Flight, John M. Collins, and the sequel, Fantastic Flight (both on Amazon, but I hate those blind links). Here's a vid of the author demo'ing several of his planes. (Is there any way for him to see this vid?)

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter

What Is the Name of This Book?: The Riddle of Dracula and Other Logical Puzzles,
Raymond M. Smullyan

nth'ing Vonnegut, with its lovely illustrations.
posted by at at 6:53 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


First thing I thought of was Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe, and pie ninja sold me on suggesting it here. Great reading, fun to peruse, loads to think about.
posted by kmennie at 7:09 PM on June 28, 2012


I sent a postcard every day to my kiddo while she was in college - all four years. Here are some of my ideas for content:

Jokes, esp silly kids jokes and puns
Quotes, but NOT inspirational
Lists of things going on in his old neighborhood, stores closing, gas prices, everyday stuff
Rebus or other puzzles
Half of a riddle or a long joke spread over several postcards
Notes in Morse code or backwards writing

You can buy wooden postcards at some tourist places. Half Price Books always has postcard books for around 3 bucks. I made most of my postcards using cardstock (cheap at Walmart and can be bulk cut at Kinkos (Fed Ex Office these days). I have sent postcards made from Coke cans but I bet the jail may not approve!

Holes can be punched into postcards. Google mail art for more ideas.
posted by daneflute at 7:47 PM on June 28, 2012


"I have no shame about sending him young adult novels; his reading level probably isn’t all that much higher, and heck, I still read them sometimes. No shame."

Ruthless Bunny writes "I'd recommend Heinlien books, Space Cadet, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land. Any of them really. "

Space cadet would work. But his adult books contain way too much sex, much of it outside of the main stream. No way Stranger in a Strange Land is going to pass a no sex bar (and it's pretty famously sexual). However his juveniles are great even for adults and for the most part contain no sex (or nothing past 50s TV level), no gang depictions, and they aren't all that violent. Starship Troopers is good, nothing like the movie, pretty violent though.

I'd go with:
posted by Mitheral at 9:25 PM on June 28, 2012


No one's suggested Jack London yet? Huh. There is zero sex in those books because they're mostly about being alone in the wilderness communing with the beasts. Some violence, but mostly they're adventure stories about trying to hack it in a rough environment.

I'd recommend The Road, White Fang, Call of the Wild, and his short story collections.

Also, has he read Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli? It's a tall-tale style young adult novel about a runaway kid who lives on mysterious food you can only find on the east coast (so like, butterscotch krimpets and real pizza) who solves a Gordion knot the hard way.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:47 PM on June 28, 2012


Seconding lyssabee's suggestion of The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian. Actually, I would recommend any of Sherman Alexie's collections of linked short stories as well. (I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Smoke Signals, but he wrote the screenplay based on the characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven). He's been very popular with young men I know who were in a similar place to your brother (literally or figuratively). He is an excellent, incisive writer but is also as funny as hell. He doesn't shy away from harsh realities but still manages to be pretty upbeat.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:55 PM on June 28, 2012


Sorry, hit post too soon. I meant to add: you are obviously a really caring sister, and I think your brother is going to be very touched by all the efforts you're making even if some of the postcards or books don't get through. Hopefully the majority will, but I really liked Drop Daedalus' idea of scanning your cards before sending them so you can give the file to your brother some day in the future in case he didn't receive them all.

Best of luck to you, your brother, and your family.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:59 PM on June 28, 2012


Holy cow what a great post with fantastic responses! Do you use a smartphone? The Postcard on the Run app is a lot of fun. Snap a photo, choose his address from your contacts, thumb type your message (guess that has to include your return address...), sign with your finger and done. The powers that be charge your credit card about $1.50, print a top-quality card and mail it for you. Pretty neat when the card is a pic of your silly face, or what have you.

Until I read about the return address requirement, I was all excited to tell you about postcrossing. In the case they don't require it in reality, here's the scoop: It's a free (cost of card and stamp) postcard exchange site. You'd send periodic cards out to randomly generated addresses, and others do the same. You'd generate the mailing of cards from all over the world, using the profile to describe his general interests, and the address would be his. BUT it's doubtful you'd get international strangers to add their address as the jail seems to require. And a shame to cut off the cool stamps.

Adding my vote to puzzle books, hand-drawn cards, Lightning Thief and anything to encourage him to learn Spanish (SoCal opps will be much greater for him), or nourish his interest in anything that will build his skills for later. Good for you.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:26 AM on June 29, 2012


Meant to add that if he becomes a voracious reader, you might consider tracking his favorites on a free site/app like GoodReads. If only populated with his top picks, it does well on the recommendations for what to send next!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:04 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anything, or rather everything, written by Carl Hiaasen. Regarding the content in his books: "There were sexual allusions, as there usually are in Hiaasen's novels, but they were brief, mild and humorous."
posted by iviken at 1:11 AM on June 29, 2012


Nthing the suggestion of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air as an engrossing non-fiction book. And if he enjoys it, he might like other books by climbers, like Michael Kodas' High Crimes, Ed Viesturs' No Shortcuts to the Top and K2, and Nick Heil's Dark Summit. (Mountaineering books are kind of addictive.)
posted by neushoorn at 1:28 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are allowed to cut your own postcards, what if you bought him a nice poster and then you can send him pieces at a time for him to put together? (Assuming he's allowed a poster, perhaps jails have restricted them since Shawshank Redemption)
posted by like_neon at 1:50 AM on June 29, 2012


If he liked The Color Purple, he might like pop lit dealing with similar themes - The Help is a very easy read and there shouldn't be anything in there that would get it censored. As a non-American I learned things about the civil rights movement that they don't teach here, so that might spark an interest too.

Also, seconding Carl Hiassen - they're funny and read like adult YA books, if that makes sense.

Non-fiction - he might like Bill Bryson, as his books (at least the earlier ones I've read) tend to be snarky and light. Although it depends whether reading travel books might make him feel more confined, if you see what I mean.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has a lot of violent sexual content and would be most likely censored, I'm afraid.
posted by mippy at 4:26 AM on June 29, 2012


Popping back in to say that I'm happy to send over postcards/photos from London - there's something different every day at the moment, what with the Olympics and all. Memail me if you'd like.

More random book thoughts: Seconding Sherman Alexie. Also wanted to put a word in for Roald Dahl's short stories - they're all good. Travel books - I have a soft spot for William Dalrymple (City of Djinns and The Age of Kali are my favourites). If you think your brother might be up for more oddball topics, there's a great book about the subculture surrounding taxidermy called Still Life that I thought was delightful and taught me all sorts of weird facts I never knew before.
posted by 9000condiments at 6:56 AM on June 29, 2012


It's awesome that he loved The Color Purple. It's too bad that a lot of the titles by Native American author Louise Erdrich would likely be too provocative, because she's awesome.

n'thing suggestions for the excellent classic adventure novels and short story collections. Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stephenson, Jack London, Alexandre Dumas (though one of them might be filed under too educational =D), Daniel Defoe, Rudyard Kipling, Johann David Wyss, Mark Twain, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'm a chick, but I looooved all of those books as a tween/pre-teen.

Classic sci-fi, too. Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance (inventor of the grue!), HG Wells, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams (for teh funny), and Phillip K. Dick.

Modern YA. The Uglies & Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld are very good. Corey Doctorow's novels may be of interest.

I did a bunch of googling/reading about censorship in prison libraries because of this question, and I am absolutely appalled by the current state of affairs. It seems that censorship rules vary widely by state and/or institution. Some censor Shakespeare!?! Apparently some institutions maintain a list of unapproved materials; perhaps yours has a list that you could refer to before ordering books.
posted by xyzzy at 11:45 PM on June 29, 2012


My little bro isn't much of a reader and he's got a developmental disorder so he's a few years behind his calendar age of 21. However, he really enjoyed the HHGG series as well as the Redwall series.

Some folks who enjoy Hunter s. Thompson type stuff also enjoy "trippy classics"; Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, The Wizard of Oz series, etc.

C.S. Lewis wrote some books for grownups (the Perelandra Series)that are clean, decent, have some adventure but are not very violent, and interesting for sci-fi/ fantasy fans.

I'll try to think of more.

Best of luck to your bro.
posted by windykites at 9:11 AM on June 30, 2012


Another thought: magic eye and art/ photo books.
Also, maybe you could write him a letter (like a real letter), and space out the content over as many postcards as neccessary.

I wonder if he might like how-to books for stuff he can do while he's in (meditation, isometric excercise, etc).

And, is he allowed to write back? Maybe you could play exes and ohs.
posted by windykites at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2012


Two books that I sent to a prisoner in California, that I believe were not rejected:

* Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
* a collection of Foxtrot comics

... which makes me think that collections of comics might be really great. They're generally low on sex and violence, and laughter is always welcome. I would definitely recommend softcover Calvin and Hobbes collections, as well as any other strip he typically enjoys. (I really, really hope the prison guards wouldn't balk at the violence between Calvin and his stuffed tiger.)

(I believe I got a Clive Cussler book and a Michael Crichton delivered, as well - oh, and a James Michener. Michener might be worth trying.)

Best wishes to your little brother, and good for you for doing this for him.
posted by kristi at 10:18 AM on June 30, 2012


Finally got around to remembering to ask someone with a similar experience for book recommendations of what was appreciated. These were able to get through in Illinois/Cook County, which has some restrictions, though I don't know how similar they are to CA standards (according to people I've spoken to, it's pretty hit or miss):

Dune (and inspired by that suggestion -- anything escapist because of the obvious, any series because it is something to look forward to)

On a similar note: Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins (which I see have been suggested, even by you)

Also, mysteries were enjoyed -- even though that's not a genre he's particularly fond of "on the outside" -- there's something about the clues/whodunit aspect that was interesting in a new way -- probably something to look forward to. Most mysteries, especially the classics, are weirdly light on the violence, so you may have luck on that.

He's definitely in our (what passes for) prayers/thoughts, and, has been said above, it's great that you're doing this. Though trying to get the book selection 'exactly right', this is truly one of those situations when "it's the thought that counts" is REALLY true for almost everybody.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:26 AM on July 3, 2012


This isn't a pure answer to your question, but is there some sort of game you could play with him that would be communicated through the postcards? I was originally thinking of chess (in the past, games used to be played by mail) - but that would require a response from him after each move.

What about some sort of continued riddle / story?
posted by jmevius at 2:16 PM on July 3, 2012


nthing classic novels. Steinbeck was a great suggestion, and East of Eden is one he could read over and over again. Twain and Fitzgerald are also great ideas. Life on the Mississippi, Huck Finn, and Fitzgerald's short stories all hold up under numerous readings.

Roald Dahal also has a number of great books and stories for grown ups.

Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are great.

Raymond Chandler stories might also be a hit.
posted by colin_l at 7:02 PM on September 18, 2012


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