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December’s Volunteer of the Month: Maria

Maria Ovalles

How did you learn about Books to Prisoners?

I found out about the Books to Prisoners organization via the United Way of King County website. I was looking for volunteer opportunities in the areas of literacy and education where I can use my experiences in academic and public libraries to help people. I was intrigued by the concept of practicing what I call “extreme readers’ advisory’” when answering letters from prisoners.

What compelled you to start volunteering?

I returned to the Seattle area after spending six years working at an academic library at the local university on Guam. I am currently looking for employment with either the Seattle or King County public libraries, and readers’ advisory is a skill I needed to work on. It can be challenging answering some of the requests, but very rewarding when you do find books from the available selection.

How long have you been volunteering?

I have been volunteering since April [2014]. I began attending the Wednesday evening sessions, but moved to the Wednesday morning sessions in September.

What is your favorite activity during a shift?

My favorite activity during a shift is getting to know the other volunteers who come in and hearing about how they found out about Books to Prisoners or discussing current events while preparing the books for mailing.

Have you learned anything unexpected about the prison system or prisoners during your work as a volunteer?

What surprised me is the large number of prisons in the country, and how it seems that prisons have become a for-profit business. It is depressing to think we are spending large amounts of money keeping people locked up. I think the U.S. as a nation needs to re-evaluate its justice system, and look at ways to reduce the number of prisoners and prisons.

What is one of the most rewarding experiences that you have had so far?

The most rewarding experience so far has been knowing that I am helping people who want to learn and improve themselves while they are in prison. Some of the prisoners write back thanking the volunteers for their service, and reading how much they appreciate getting books and other materials is humbling.

How would you summarize your time at Books to Prisoners? Do you have any words of advice for people considering helping our organization?

Volunteering at Books to Prisoners has been an eye-opener. I have learned about the prison system, the conditions of some of the state prisons. I have met some wonderful volunteers, and Books to Prisoners is a very welcoming organization. When I arrived at Books to Prisoners on my first visit, I was amazed at the wall-to-wall bookshelves and the energetic volunteers. You can volunteer as much or as little as you want. Check them out on the website and come in one time and see how it is.

How do you spend time outside of Books to Prisoners?

I enjoy reading books as well as listening to audio books, discovering new restaurants, taking pictures of Seattle cityscapes and nature, and traveling.

Thanks for taking time to talk with us, Maria!


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