I became interested in BTP when I first heard about it, decades ago, when the facilities were located in Pioneer Square and volunteers worked only in the evenings. I didn’t have a car and didn’t want to take the bus downtown after a day at work so I sent donations instead. Also the U District and Crown Hill were a distance – so I was delighted when BTP opened shop in my neighborhood. I have always been involved with literacy and almost all my volunteer activities have had to do with helping people have the opportunity to read.
For some time now I’ve volunteered with a small group of people on Wednesday mornings. I appreciate the quiet camaraderie of like-minded people. I especially appreciate the work that Pat and Gail do, getting postage on the packaged books then getting the hefty, bulky white boxes out the door and off to the post office. I admire the people who take the donations and try to place them on the shelves, a task I imagine to be a considerable challenge. I’ve talked with Kris and others about having a general Nonfiction shelf for books that could possibly fit into any of a number of categories but might be happiest just labeled Nonfiction.
I’m always surprised by the variety of requests we receive, from individuals wanting to learn how to raise chickens or build a log cabin to requests for more academic subjects, and especially those wanting to study for a GED. One of the best requests I received was from someone who said, “Thank you for opening doors and windows for us.” Another said, “Help me get out of here. Send me something that will take my mind completely away.” One of the saddest was from a man who said, “Thank you from this 80-year old geezer.”
As regards my views on the prison system, I always wonder: How old was the prisoner’s mother when he or she was born? Did the person have a two-parent family? Did he or she know their grandparents? How much education were they able to attain? Was there any stability in their early life? So many different circumstances happened that led these individuals in the direction that they went – some of it was fate, some came from poor decisions. But few in prison seem to have had a well-grounded foundation and our society has not served them well.
For my own reading I prefer nonfiction – especially biography, geography, history. From a very young age I have had full access to a library, no matter where I’ve lived, and feel everyone should have similar privileges. Some of my favorite books are War in Val d’Orcia, The Past is Myself, and just about anything by William Dalrymple, Freya Stark, Barbara Tuchman, Richard Fortey.
Regarding the books I find to send to prisoners, I always try to find books that seem to suit the prospective reader’s capabilities. If the handwriting is barely legible and the spelling is questionable, sometimes I look for books in the young adult section. Also I try to find books that are positive – I find it hard to send anything to a prisoner that is too gloomy or negative. It’s hard enough to have a bleak existence but there’s no need to open doors or windows onto dark corridors. Adding from the selection of pamphlets should be remembered too – meditation, pen pals, yoga, drawing, additional resources.
I appreciate all the team at BTP and look forward to continuing to share the work. I hope to make a difference in the lives of incarcerated individuals with this one small effort.