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Meet Anjali, Volunteer of the Month for January 2023

“Anjali is the kind of young person we love to see taking an interest in literacy and reading in prison. Her stick-to-it-iveness is truly impressive,” according to BTP board member Andy. She began volunteering with us in June.

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?

One of my closest friends had recently begun to volunteer at BTP herself, and she mentioned it briefly in a conversation once. I’ve always been passionate about making reforms within our criminal justice system, so this seemed like such an incredible opportunity to combine that with my love for reading. When I was a kid, my parents would have to convince me to go to bed, because I wanted to stay up turning through the pages of another book all night. As soon as I went through my orientation, I knew that BTP would be something I’d stick with long term. All the staff were very welcoming, and it was such an enjoyable way to help spread love, kindness, and support to incarcerated individuals during any hard times they may be enduring.

Is there anything you especially like about volunteering with us? What are your favorite parts of the process?

One thing I strongly appreciate about volunteering with BTP is how lovely and kind every person involved is–it always feels like you’re part of a great community. The main part of the process that stands out to me is reading people’s letters. It’s always incredibly impactful because it serves as a deep reminder that the people within these systems are people just like you and me–they have likes, dislikes, interests, and passions. We often end up dehumanizing those within the prison system, so it always refreshes my perspective to hear the point of view of people within the system themselves. I also enjoy assembling packages, as it’s really fun to try to search through the collection at BTP to find something that will bring that person something enjoyable and hopeful.

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?

The first request that comes to mind is one that I received about a month back, in which the letter was written in Spanish. I’ve been learning Spanish for about four years in school, so I was thankfully able to understand most of it, and what the prisoner had wrote really impacted me. He described how he had very little to do while he was in prison, and that his mom wanted to send him books to read while he was there, but she couldn’t. English wasn’t her first language, and it was very difficult for her to figure out the explanations of how to send inmates items. It really opened my eyes to how much the prison system impacts incarcerated individuals and their loved ones outside of the system. There’s such limited interaction with the people you’re close with, and it must be incredibly difficult to persevere through, especially because our systems’ designs are so limited in terms of access. Another request that stands out was one in which the prisoner detailed how both the staff and other inmates made fun of him because he was Muslim. This was so heartbreaking for me to read, as it points out how much bias still exists within the system. Both of these letters made me even more passionate about doing meaningful work to improve the way our justice systems operate.

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.

Within school, we’ve always been educated about the downfalls of the prison system within our nation, especially regarding the prejudices that said systems are rooted in. It’s also a topic of conversation that my parents have been very open about to make sure my brother and I are knowledgeable about the subject. Thus, I don’t think my views have necessarily prominently shifted since my time working at BTP, but I do think that my perspective has been enhanced. To actually hear the words of incarcerated individuals really gives insight into how poorly we treat those within the prison system. It’s incredibly lonely, draining, and difficult to be within the prison system, and it’s hard to understand the weight it holds within your life unless you hear the point of view of someone who has gone through it. It’s really given me a more in depth understanding how incredibly challenging it is for incarcerated individuals, though I’ll never be able to fully know what it’s like to be within their shoes. There’s so much room for growth within our justice systems, and it’s incredibly vital we begin working towards that now.

Do you have any book recommendations for us? Is there anything you especially like to read in your spare time?

I’m an avid mystery reader (along with a hint of horror), so my book recommendations are probably quite biased towards one genre. Some favorites of mine are And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, and The Doctors Blackwell by Janice P. Nimura.

Are there any other parting words that you’d like to share with whoever’s reading this?

I’m very thankful for all the staff and fellow volunteers at BTP for creating such a joyful, relaxed, and peaceful environment to create tangible change on an issue very important to me, and I would encourage anyone reading this to find an inclusive community where they can explore work in areas they’re passionate about. (Also, definitely support BTP in any way you can, because it’s an outstanding organization!)


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