Craig began volunteering at BtP in July 2022. According to Andy, one of our board members, “From the first time I met Craig he had a different energy to him than most volunteers, which may be just Craig, but is probably explained by his lived experience.”
What got you interested in BTP to begin with, or what made you start volunteering? Does it tie in to the rest of your life in any meaningful way?
I recently completed a two year sentence at a federal camp, with more than 5 months in Covid quarantine. During quarantine and security lock-downs, access to phones, email, visitors and other inmates is very limited. Nothing is more precious than a book to help escape the reality of the surroundings. I was lucky to have a good support network, who sent me letters and reading materials, but many of the other inmates were not so fortunate. Any book I finished was immediately snapped up. One of the books I found in the prison library had been sent in by a religious book distribution program, the Prison Book Project. I immediately decided I wanted to find a similar, non-religious organization to volunteer with after my release to “return the favor” to other inmates.
Is there anything you especially like about volunteering with us? What are your favorite parts of the process?
I’m a book geek and love searching the stacks and exploring BTP’s ever changing inventory when filling requests from program clients. I especially find delight when I track down the exact book and author requested, especially the obscure titles, like a recent request I filled for Brandon Sanderson’s El Imperio Final – it was like hitting a home run!
Everybody starts off by responding to letters, even if they eventually move on to wrapping or other tasks. Some of the letters can be memorable. Are there any requests that surprised you, or that you remember standing out in any way?
I’ve been surprised at the huge demand for manga, as well as Norse legends and the occult, which I didn’t see much of at the camp. Beyond that, I enjoy letters that have been decorated with artwork or written in unique fonts.
In the time that you’ve been here, do you think that your views on the prison system, or what it’s like to be incarcerated, have changed? Please feel free to talk about those views if you would like.
My views of the prison system haven’t changed very much as a result of volunteering with BTP. Way before my own legal problems, I viewed prisons as simply warehousing people deemed undesirable by society. I now see it more from the perspective of societal revenge, a slow, sloppy revenge that punishes families and friends of those accused of a crime and ensures anyone who passes through the system becomes a permanent second class citizen. The current system of mass incarceration should be a huge embarrassment for everyone. We are so good at so many things, why are we so bad at this?
Do you have any book recommendations for us? Is there anything you especially like to read in your spare time?
How much time do you have?
Sula by Toni Morrison – Lush imagery and passionate language, the life story of freespirit Sula thru the eyes of her best friend
Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko – High adventure boating the Grand Canyon, with a bit of dam engineering on the side
The Premonition by Michael Lewis – How our government and institutions flubbed the response to Covid
Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols – Every page filled with tidy vignettes, fleshing out the extraordinary characters
Griftopia by Matt Taibbi – Unpacking 4 massive economic con jobs that have robbed billions from the middle class of the US
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey – Accidental outlaw and Australian folk hero, chocked full of crazy Aussie speak
Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne – The amazing untold story rise and fall of the Comanche nation
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Antony Marra – A Chechnyan born doctor returns home after the 2nd war with Russia. A preview of life in Ukraine if the Russian invasion succeeds
Beyond Bars, Rejoining Society After Prison by Jeffrey Ross and Stephen Richards – A how-to guide for inmates on avoiding the numerous pitfalls and staying out of prison after release
Are there any other parting words that you’d like to share with whoever’s reading this?
Thank you for your generosity. You can’t imagine how much a difference it makes in an inmate’s life.