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Meet Chloe, Volunteer of the Month for May 2023

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 first heard about BTP when I lived in Olympia (around 2018), where I grew up, and when I went to college I was excited to join the Seattle group as it was housed close to the University of Washington campus where I attended college. Unfortunately, my dreams were cut short before I could apply as a new volunteer when Covid hit in the middle of my freshman year. After two years of online college and living with my parents again, I was back living in Seattle and able to join BTP and the rest is history.

Being with BTP showed me at a crucial part of my education that there are a million ways for any American to become involved with the criminal justice system – I was just privileged enough by circumstance to be able to choose to interact with it through volunteering. In March I got my first “adult” job (since graduating from the UW in December) as a forensics clinician at Sound, providing case management and behavioral health counseling to people released from Washington prisons.

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

Personally, I love picking out unique gifts to surprise my loved ones, and at BTP, I’m overjoyed every time I can pick out exact books that someone requests or remember seeing a book the week before that I think would be perfect for the letter-writer. Recently I’ve only been focusing on wrapping, and that feels like a part of the gift-giving process too.

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?

Last month (April), I wrapped a package and the writer sent about 10 poems he’d crafted with colorful, stenciled titles. I added a couple books to the package that I thought he’d like because the poems were pretty good.

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.

Career-wise I always knew I wanted to work with people who are engaged with the criminal justice program, but I leaned towards working on the side of the criminal justice system, like a prosecuting attorney as a goal. Starting with BTP helped enlighten me on some of the ways that the prison system can directly and indirectly create barriers to fulfilling lives for those incarcerated and their family members, like purposely inhibiting the ability to read or learn through books. Through my education at the UW and working with BTP, I’ve come to understand the detrimental force incarceration exerts on marginalized populations in the US, and how much service and effort grassroots organizations must mobilize to restore any kind of justice and dignity to incarcerated folks.

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

I collect books about bees and copies of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (I have around 10 or 11). The last few books I’ve really liked were The Appeal by Janice Hallet (mystery), Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (sociology), and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (true adventure/biography).

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

Please consider wrapping packages – it’s a great task for detail-oriented people and it’s normal for people to make mistakes when fulfilling letter requests, so you often still get to pick out books and puzzle through the “fun” task of making the weight fit. It’s the only way we can get the amazing packages everyone works hard on into the hands of the people who need them!

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