At APBP, there are three main tasks for volunteers: opening letters from people in prison, matching the requests in the letters to a donated book on our shelves, and wrapping books in brown paper to be put in the mail. One APBP volunteer, Katie Clendenin, opted to match books at APBP.
Matching books seemed like an easy enough task, but I quickly realized it wouldn’t go as fast as I originally thought. Although the letters weren’t necessarily intended for me, I was one of several people who would ultimately read them. By the time they got to me, someone else had already done the work of reading it and identifying specific requests or desired genres and titles. It would be easy enough to glance at the highlighted words and phrases and pick a book that matched the request close enough.
However, once I started reading the letters and looking through the books, I found myself agonizing over the responsibility. So many of the letters were written as if to a close friend—they were friendly and grateful. Some were short, only outlining the details of the request. Others went on for a page or more, telling of updates in their life. Some made me cry; they expressed fear, worry, excitement.
I felt like I had to give each letter, each person, adequate time and attention. I wanted to make them feel heard and cared for even though they would never know who chose their books. I quickly realized it was important to me to know that I was trying my best to find a book that matched their request.
Anyone who has volunteered with APBP can share a similar story, like the first time they held a handwritten letter in their hands, or the moment they truly understood that the person on the other end of the letter was locked in a cage. It’s easy to get caught up in volunteer hours, book titles, and packing tape, but let’s not forget our responsibility to the people we are serving.
Do you have a similar experience? What is your favorite memory of volunteering with APBP? Share with us!