Sunday, April 30, 2017

Louisiana Books to Prisoners

April community service hours: 14
Spring Semester total community service hours: 30

2016-2017 Academic year total community service hours: 80

I recently saw a documentary about the Louisiana criminal justice system, and it made me want to help those who fell on the wrong side. Louisiana has an exceptionally large prison population, exceptionally cruel prisons, and many offenders are there for non-violent crimes. Everyone should have something to read, even the violent ones. So, I spent my last two weekends with the Louisiana books to prisoners program.

I was hoping to visit a chain gang, or walk through a tier of prison cells. However, my duties at this volunteer job were just much less harrowing.

There is an efficient system of work flow that starts with picking up one of the letters requesting books. No jailhouse confessions, or coded messages here. The letters were each just a list of three book categories. I was a little disappointed that nobody requested a pharmacology text or any type of science book. They usually just wanted some fiction books or mystery novels. The next step is to head over to the book shelves. The donated and used books are organized into categories. There are books on food, art, and geography, but most of them are suspense novels. That worked because that is what the prisoners want. So after selecting three books, the titles and destination get written on an "invoice form." Then the books and form are rubber-banded together and placed in a que where the shipping labels are printed.

Once that is done, the next step was to wrap the three books with the invoice, and then apply the shipping label. The "wrapping paper" is actually cut brown paper grocery bags. They are surprising tough, and recycling is always good. So that is how they are shipped... three books, rubber banded together, wrapped in grocery bag paper, and then taped closed with a shipping label stuck to the outside. The only other task was haul in boxes of donated books, unpack them, and sort them onto the appropriate shelves. I gravitated toward that last part because it was more physical.

I repeated the above processes over and over... for over three hours straight, on both days of two weekends. I would not want to work a job like this, but it feels good to think that I contributed to this effort that allows the prisoners some relief from their situation, to escape from behind the prison walls, into the pages of a book.

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