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Meet Sydney, Volunteer of the Month, December 2022

Sydney began volunteering with Books to Prisoners in June. She comes in several times a month to wrap packages of books prisoners have requested. “Very focused, but really pleasant to be around”, according to BtP board member Andy, who often hosts the Tuesday night volunteer shift.

Sydney has offered to use her experience applying for grants on our behalf. We look forward to working with her in that capacity as well.

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 had been looking for a volunteer opportunity that supported folks who are incarcerated, that also (perhaps selfishly) offered a space for me to do something that aligned with my interests in reading and literacy. BTP seemed like the perfect fit. As it turns out, BTP is supported by an incredible network of volunteers who show up every week ready to get to work, which has been encouraging, meaningful, and inspiring–and it’s often what I look forward to most every week.

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

My favorite part of the process is fulfilling requests and trying to put together the “perfect” package. As someone who reads a lot in my spare time, I love reading a letter and finding what feels like the perfect book for that person based on their request.

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 remember reading one letter from someone who was requesting books for their child back at home. They talked all about what types of books their kid might like and their interests, but they couldn’t get them anything while inside and hoped BTP could help. It stood out to me as a gentle reminder that while incarceration deeply affects the people behind bars, it also affects their loved ones and so many others.

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.

Volunteering with BTP has affirmed what I already believed about the prison system–that we can imagine and achieve a more safe, hopeful, and loving world without prisons–, but reading letters has definitely changed my understanding of what it must be like to be incarcerated. People requesting books often ask for the bare minimum… “anything helps” is a line I see all the time. I don’t think people on the outside can fully understand the conditions in which prisoners live until reading letters and hearing their firsthand accounts. And even then, you aren’t fully understanding, but I think we all gain a deeper sense of empathy.

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

So many book recommendations… where do I even start? Here are a few of my all-time favorites:

Know My Name by Chanel Miller, Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, and for some transformative justice education… We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba.

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

I’m just grateful to be surrounded by and learn from the folks at BTP. I would encourage whoever is reading this to find a space where you can be in a community with people who share your beliefs and are striving to make this world a little more just.


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