From Katie Kennel
I volunteered with the Appalachian Prison Book Project on November 3rd and returned on November 6th. When I arrived there to volunteer, I received a brief training and was then allowed to work. There are three categories of work that can be done when volunteering: opening letters, matching books to the letters, and wrapping the books to be sent out. Although I spent most of my volunteer time wrapping, each step of the process appears to be equally fulfilling, and they are all very crucial to the project.
I learned more than how to wrap books during this volunteer experience. I had never thought about the life of a person in prison prior to volunteering with this group, but this activity has taught me a lot. The people who are writing to the organization are asking for a chance to read literature, and they are very thankful towards the group for providing them the opportunity. This is an educational opportunity, as well as one that could change the lives of the individuals. Many lessons can be learned through reading, and a book has the power to make a huge impact on a person. People imprisoned are still people and I have learned that everyone deserves to have the chance to read and have access to books.
By sending books to incarcerated people, this organization is advocating for education rights in prisons. This is directly connected to the humanities because it promotes the study of many different topics including literature. By promoting educational rights in prisons, the organization also is working towards prison reform. This organization is a great example of how we can apply concepts from the humanities to public life.
APBP is committed to doing great work for the Appalachian community, and I will likely be volunteering there again. Through this experience, I have learned the power that the humanities have to make changes in our society and I was able to help an organization that devotes itself to this change.
From Kim Gray
As someone who feels deeply about the ways in which people in prison have been dehumanized and was seeking a way to help counteract this treatment towards the incarcerated, I decided that helping APBP would be something I would thoroughly enjoy. Not only do I get to assist in helping expand this organization, but I would also get to experience the workings of the legal systems in which would further develop my skills of knowledge when I pursue my career as a criminal lawyer. It came as quite the surprise to learn that there are many rules when it comes to what and how we can send books to prisoners. Constrained rules such as not using stamps, only sending hardback books to certain prisons, letters must have an inmate number, and if there is a permission slip, then it must be mailed back as well. Also, unfortunately the list of prisons we cannot send to changes every few months, so APBP must keep an eye on those shifts and continuously check whether or not we are able to send books to prisoners from those specific prisons. All of these regulations sometimes put strain on the workflow of the organization, but just comes to show how secure they try and make incoming mail procedures and heightens the level of satisfaction when we have achieved our goal of mailing books to those incarcerated.
By participating in this service, I was able to better understand the level of appreciation people in prison have for the doings of APBP. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that common objects that we take for granted, such as books, become great treasures to people who are locked away. I have had the chance to read some of the incoming letters, and all of them have showed great appreciation and thanks for their books and deep wishes to receive more. It also shows how important literature, for it can transport those facing hardships to places where they do not have to be reminded of the struggles they may face on an everyday basis. It is truly a heartwarming feeling to know how grateful others are towards your simple actions, such as wrapping a couple books. To know that I was making a huge difference to the forgotten members of society, being someone who they know still sees and hears them was a big life changing moment to me. I was shown that APBP is much bigger than the small office space at the AULL Center, and instead has grown to be sanctuary to those who may have never felt accepted into a community before. People like this, who understood the value in this project, were the ones I worked with. They created an atmosphere of warmth and deeper understanding of the importance of this organization. I truly am grateful for this experience and plan to continue participating in the Appalachian Prison Book Project as an active member.