Through an independent study led by Katy Ryan, Danielle Stoneberg and I had the opportunity to take on more responsibility at APBP by running the mail to the post office. This has been an interesting experience that has given me the opportunity to learn a little more about APBP and what it takes to keep a prison book project running.
Mailing Books to Prisons Is Hard Work
During the spring semester (and now into the summer), Danielle and I volunteered to help with packing up wrapped books, checking the addresses, and then taking all of those books (sometimes many, many IKEA totes full) to the Dellslow Post Office. This experience has allowed Danielle and me to forge a relationship with the post office and, more importantly, with Kim and Molly, the employees who are there most often.
Forming this relationship with them has had a dual purpose—to limit the amount of time that is spent in line waiting for books and envelopes to be processed and to make Molly and Kim’s job easier. Of the two, I’m most pleased about making Molly and Kim’s lives a little bit easier when it comes to APBP because though it is their job to run mail and process packages, I still think it’s important to try and help to make things as smooth as possible and to have a good relationship with the folks who help us get one of the most important parts of APBP’s work done.
Running the mail has also helped me see just how many folks APBP is able to help in a given week; it’s such an amazing thing to see just how many giant IKEA-totes (honestly, IKEA totes are the best way to haul books back and forth) the wrapped books take up. And I guess that I knew something of this before I started dealing with the mail, since I was wrapping every so often when I had time, but it wasn’t something that I had actually seen. It was sort of breathtaking to realize that APBP is able to help send books to so many people who might not have access (without cost) otherwise.
Sharing the Story of APBP Every Step of the Way
It’s been interesting to interact with folks—not only at the post office but also in my own family—and talk to them about how important the work with APBP is and how it’s affected me.
Folks at the post office are curious about the packages and where they’re being sent to. One woman asked Danielle and me if we had an Etsy store and what the packages were all about. When Danielle explained what APBP was and how it worked, other people who were waiting in the line started to ask how to get involved or how to help send books to folks who are incarcerated. It was amazing to see how many people wanted to know what it was about and how they might be able to help.
Within my own family, I’ve talked a little about running mail and how important it is to help get folks who are incarcerated reading material. I also had to explain how difficult-to-understand some of the rules and regulations are at certain prisons and how something as simple as getting a book can require jumping through multiple hoops with packaging and addressing and pen color and tape and etcetera. This mostly surprised them, especially my mom, who’s been an English teacher for over twenty years. She seemed a little shocked and sad that reading isn’t necessarily a guaranteed right and that some people have to pay per minute to read. I want to say that I’m surprised by her not knowing this, but I’m not—the prison industrial complex has worked very hard to make sure that its practices are covered and invisible, especially to the larger public.
I also talked a little bit about my work with my grandma, who wanted to donate books to APBP. (As a side note, she was very unsure about her donations, but for a really funny reason. She asked me, “Are you sure that these romance novels will be okay? Do they want to read romance novels like this? Are you really sure that they’ll request these?” I assured her that yes, folks who wanted romance novels would love to read her donated ones!) Our conversation made me laugh, and it was good just to reassure her, and to say out loud, that people who are incarcerated are still people.
Books Are Connections, Both Inside and Outside
Running the mail and being more involved in APBP has also allowed me to get to know Danielle better, which has been a joy. It’s been really nice to learn from Danielle and to get her perspective on things like social justice, restorative practices, and abolitionist movements. She’s smart and thoughtful and an amazing abolitionist, and I’m so glad I was able to get to know her better through the mail and through our independent study. It’s also just been nice to talk to someone about how the post office is sometimes frustrated with our influx of packages.
Overall, my service to APBP has become such an important part of my life and has encouraged me to ask more questions and try to do more in most of everything that I do. It’s also shown me how important it is to help those who are within the prison industrial complex make connections with the outside through letters and books.
By Morgan Roediger