Reading is Revolutionary

The Tranzmission Prison Project is bringing hope to Asheville, NC, one book at a time

For some, Asheville, North Carolina brings images of smoky mountains, craft beers, and well-to-do retirees. But hidden just beneath the shiny veneer of barbecue and art galleries, lives a vibrant queer subculture. The Tranzmissions Prison Project (TPP) mirrors this reality. In the center of downtown Asheville, in an under-lit room in the back of Downtown Books and News, is the headquarters of TPP–a small but impactful initiative that embodies compassion and community advocacy for incarcerated individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.

TPP was founded on the belief that access to literature can transcend the confines of prison walls. It is a direct response to the painful reality that the systems that exist, oppress people in the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. It’s a tiny beacon of hope for incarcerated people who identify as LGBTQ+, in their darkest time.

With a staff of volunteers that varies around ten to fifteen people, the initiative exists because of donations and volunteer hours. Riley, a resilient trans-masculine person, whose dedication to prison abolition acts as a mentor to new members and jack-of-trades volunteers whenever it’s needed. When Riley isn’t working as a DJ at Static Age, a popular vintage record store, or tending the bar at one of Asheville’s queer hubs, he organizes Pansy Fest and fronts a band called Cloud Gayzer. In whatever time he has left, you can find him in the back room of the bookstore, fulfilling requests for books. TPP wouldn’t exist without the efforts of Riley and several other volunteers.

TPP’s mission is simple, yet profound–to provide incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals with access to literature that reflects their identities and experiences. Recognizing the transformative power of books, TPP collects donations from generous supporters and channels them directly to those in need. An incarcerated person simply needs to fill out an application, self identify as LGBTQ+, and request the books of their choice, and TPP sends it to them free of charge–without gatekeeping or scrutiny.

Despite operating on a microbudget, TPP’s impact resonates far beyond its modest reach–enriching the lives of people who may have felt forgotten. Each book carries with it the potential to inspire, educate, and uplift–offering a glimmer of hope within an unjust system. Whether it’s a memoir that mirrors their own journey or a work of fiction that transports them to another world, these books serve as lifelines for individuals seeking solace and connection.

The TPP is a beacon of collaborative activism in the pursuit of prison abolition. Partnering with a network of organizations such as Firestorm Books & Cafe, Black & Pink, and LGBT Books to Prisoners, TPP champions a holistic approach to dismantling the prison industrial complex. They’re the perfect example of how a small grassroots organization can make big change. It’s a counter to any advocacy group that believes they can’t make positive change because of their lack of budget or time. 

Their work extends beyond the act of distributing books; it embodies a broader message of solidarity and resilience. By amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals within the prison system, TPP challenges systemic injustices and advocates for a more inclusive and compassionate society. Their grassroots efforts remind us that even in the face of adversity, empathy and understanding have the power to break down barriers and build bridges.

As TPP continues to grow and evolve, its impact reverberates not only within the walls of prisons but throughout the LGBTQ+ community. With each book sent, and each life touched, TPP reaffirms its commitment to fostering a more just and equitable world—one page at a time.

The Tranzmission Prison Project stands as a testament to the transformative power of compassion and solidarity. Through their unwavering dedication, they remind us that even in the darkest of times, the light of knowledge and empathy can shine through. They exist as proof that even the tiniest organization can make great change. If a small group of people in a back office of a bookstore can touch so many lives, imagine a world where we were all working for a better future.♦

You learn more about Tranzmission Prison Project here.

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