Kim is an experienced volunteer who’s done a wonderful job of connecting BTP to outside organizations, especially her workplace (Queen Anne Book Company.) Many of the books we currently hold in stock were donated through a program she started at QABC; to celebrate, we asked her a couple questions about her experiences volunteering with us.
1. How did you get started with Books to Prisoners? How long have you been volunteering?
The washington DOC book ban pissed me off. That’s how I got interested – that was back in April. That was when I started to look into how to get used books to prisoners, and realized that was something I could do, something that was possible. The flash point was realizing that we had a program here, and that I’d had no idea – then it became a no-brainer. I caught somebody I knew literally throwing away books and decided that wouldn’t happen again!
2. What attracted you to BTP in particular? Do we tie into the rest of your life in any way?
Oh, yes. So I’m in charge of donations at Queen Anne Book Company, and we get a ton of books that I can’t donate to most organizations. So I reached out to Andy, back in April, and wanted to know if we could give BTP some of our Advance Reader’s Copies. He said yes, and that was the wonderful beginning point, sort of the initial tie-in. I got really passionate about it once I understood exactly what BTP was doing. Initially I thought it was just a WA program, but it’s actually national.
I bring my passion for getting books to prisoners to my work, and our community at Queen Anne Book Company now shares in that passion by buying new books to donate from often-requested, less frequently donated books like drawing instruction, fantasy, and pocket paperback dictionaries. We’re grateful for our customers who are getting behind this goal with enthusiasm.
3. As a volunteer, you spend a lot of time reading prisoners’ letters – are there any that stick out to you? Or any other experiences you’ve had with us that you’d want to share?
Yes! A group of 4-5 prisoners had written in together, sharing one envelope – each of them said “I liked this and that genre, but what I really want is this particular book by Tolkein.” They were cellmates, hoping to get the complete collection between all of them. We didn’t have any Tolkein at the time, so I sent them other books, but it nagged at me a bit. When I talked to my coworkers about it they offered to buy the books themselves, but some customers at the store had overdonated, so – with permission – I collected books from the overdonation (just digging through the box) and I was able to send them the whole thing! That really stuck out to me, that was the point where I started asking myself hey, I can do more, what could I be doing here?
Oh, also, a man wrote in who had only one person who kept in touch with him after he went to prison, his uncle. They mostly exchanged jokes and he was looking for a new joke book so he could make his uncle laugh. It’s really stuck with me.
4. Have any of the requests surprised you? What were your expectations?
I’m not sure I had any expectations. I know a lot of people who’ve been in prison and they’re all super well-read, so I expected that it’d be a diverse set of requests. I guess I wasn’t expecting all the veiled white power requests….in retrospect, I guess of course we’re getting those, they’re in prison too. I mean….O….kay. But yeah, I actually expected there to be a really wide range of well-read people looking for interesting stuff. I mean, I’ve played chess for years, and there’s a really high crossover of people who’ve been in prison. Or at least in washington state, there is.
5. Has your experience at Books to Prisoners impacted how you think about the carceral-correctional system? Is there anything else you’d like to do along these lines? How do you feel the “justice” system impacts your life?
Oh, where to start…..so I have a buddy in Louisiana who’s incarcerated there, and they don’t have a library. That just pisses me off. A lot of places don’t have libraries, don’t have access to BTP…there are a lot of places people can’t get books, period. I didn’t realize how widespread the E-Reader scam was, until I started working here and getting a sense of that – how exploitative it is, charging people for public domain books.
6. As an organization centered on books, we’re always interested to know if you have any favorite books, authors, or genres. Care to share anything? What would you recommend to other people?
Let’s see, uh….I’m trying to think fiction vs. nonfiction in what I want to say…right now, my girlfriend is reading The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman. It’s fantastic, I’d highly recommend checking that out if you’re a fan of His Dark Materials (his earlier trilogy.) And then for nonfiction, I’m actually reading An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, it’s almost zero narrative, just fact after fact after fact. It’s incredibly traumatizing for any american, it’s just a constant reframing of our cellar myths. It’s a hard read, it’s really dense, but it’s full of uncomfortable truths people should know.
7. Any words for people thinking of volunteering, our supporters, other volunteers, etc.? In other words, is there anything else you’d like to say about us as an organization?
One of the things I value about volunteering here is that it’s caused me to take another look at my bookshelves, and ask myself what I have to keep versus what I can share. LeGuin said that wealth is having something to give, so it’s made me think about that more. It’s made it easier for me to get rid of books that I’ve been lugging around for, you know, a decade. I would challenge people to maybe try looking at bookshelves in that way.
(This concludes our interview with Kim! Give her a big round of applause!)