Meet Linnea Kennedy, Our Featured Volunteer

Linnea_profileIt’s National Volunteer Week, so this seemed the perfect time to introduce our series of occasional features on the volunteers at Chicago Books to Women in Prison. And because, sadly for us, Linnea will be moving to California this spring, we wanted to put her in the spotlight while we can.

How and why did you get involved with Chicago Books to Women in Prison? I first learned about CBWP in fall 2012 when I was a graduate student at Roosevelt University in the Women’s & Gender Studies program. Megan Bernard, the former coordinator, came to a Women’s Studies 101 class that I was the TA for, and she gave a great talk to the students about CBWP, prison justice, activism, etc. I was intrigued and wanted to come volunteer, but didn’t actually get around to it until almost a year later when I was out of grad school, unemployed, and looking for ways to connect with like-minded folks and to educate myself more about prison justice issues. From the first Sunday that I volunteered at CBWP, I was hooked!

What is a typical afternoon of volunteering like for you? Even though answering letters is my favorite activity, first and foremost I like to pitch in where it’s needed the most—whether that’s organizing and shelving a big donation, cutting up paper bags or assisting with the Special Requests project. 2 to 5 p.m. seems like a lot of time, but really it flies by, so it’s essential to have lots of willing hands on board to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.

What is the best part about volunteering with our group? The moment when you find the exact book that an inmate has requested in her letter. Double points if it’s a hard-to-find title or subject, or a popular author that usually flies off the shelves. Everyone shares in the excitement too. It’s a really rewarding experience.

What has been your single most enjoyable or rewarding experience? When CBWP was awarded the Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation (May 2014). That was a proud moment, as it was the first time I had ever worked on a grant application and it paid off! Big moments like that are rewarding, as well as “smaller” moments—like when I decided to use my own money to purchase three books for a woman who had requested books about welding and underwater welding (a topic we would most likely never receive via donated books). I picked out three books online about welding that seemed like they would be helpful (but who was I to know? I was choosing somewhat blindly, not knowing anything about welding) and she wrote back and was very grateful for the books, and said that she had tried writing to three other organizations to get materials on welding and no one else had answered her request. It was rewarding knowing that she now had the books she wanted, and sobering to note the relative ease with which I was able to access and purchase these books at my choosing.

How has your experience with CBWP influenced you the most? I am even more acutely aware now of what a privilege easy access to reading materials can be. Though I personally do not believe that books should be classified as a privilege to be rescinded, but rather, as a right and a necessity, it is clear from reading the letters from the women we serve that both the act of reading and reading materials themselves are often viewed in the prison system as something to be restricted and policed.

How has volunteering influenced your perspective on prison issues? Volunteering with CBWP has definitely heightened my awareness of the need for prison reform. It’s impossible to read these letters every Sunday and for it to not have some sort of impact on you as the reader.

What has surprised you most about volunteering? I have been surprised at what a difference it makes to be doing something you love, even if it’s not “paid work” and is only “volunteering”. Getting a taste of this at CBWP has made me rethink what I am looking for in a satisfying career. I hope to get more involved in prison literacy and/or prison reform when I move back home to California.

What might someone who knows you only at CBWP be surprised to learn about you? I am related to the real-life Captain Morgan—he of spiced rum fame! He is a distant relative through my maternal grandfather’s side.

Mother’s Day Art and Card Making Event for Incarcerated Mothers—Thurs., April 23


Bring your creativity and caring! We’ll be making cards and art to send to mothers who are incarcerated in Illinois jails and prisons as well as Federal prisons. (Did you know that two-thirds of the women incarcerated in the U.S. are mothers of minor children?)

Thursday, April 23, 6–8 p.m.
Gallery 400
400 S. Peoria St., Chicago

Learn more on the Facebook event page.

We’re delighted to be co-sponsoring the event with Black and Pink: Chicago and Love & Protect. Some supplies will be available, but please bring art and card-making materials if you can.

We also welcome any softcover book donations for the women we serve. Check out the kinds of books we need most.

New Volunteers: Next Orientation is Sunday, May 3

Exciting things are happening at Chicago Books to Women in Prison and we’d love for you to be a part of it all.

Join us for our next orientation session, led by one of our experienced volunteers—Sunday, May 3, 1–2 p.m., right before our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here. (Note that this is a week later than our usual last-Sunday-of-the-month schedule.)

Learn how you can make a personal, powerful difference in the lives of Rebecca H. and other incarcerated women.


Many thanks to Resurrection Lutheran Church

Thank you, Pastor Bill Hutchison and everyone at Resurrection Lutheran. We are proud to have been honored again with a Mission Endowment Fund grant. This year we were awarded $800, which has been earmarked for sending blank journals.

Along with book orders, we receive many requests for blank journals. The women we serve need them to:

  • Keep a journal for reflection and therapy
  • Work on assignments for a class or self-directed study
  • Write poems, short stories and novels
  • Record their lives for children and grandchildren
  • Practice calligraphy
  • Draw portraits, still lifes and fashion designs
  • Draft small-business plans

Our challenge is that it costs us substantially more to mail blank journals than books. We can take advantage of discounted Media Mail pricing for printed publications, but must pay First Class Mail rates for journals. In general, it costs about the same to mail one journal as to mail three books. This generous gift will enable us to better meet this urgent need.

At the same time, we can always use more blank journals, composition books and the like. (They cannot be hardcover or have spiral binding.) You may drop them off or order from our Amazon Wish List (or another supplier).

Writing Lives: Books Beyond the Prison Bars—Weds., March 25 at Women & Children First

Join us along with authors Crystal Laura and Maya Schenwar for readings from their recent and acclaimed books, and for conversation with all of us on making vital connections behind bars, prison issues and more at this special event.

Co-sponsor Black and Pink will also share details on becoming a pen pal with LBGTQ people behind bars in Illinois.

Writing Lives: Books Beyond the Prison Bars

Wednesday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
Women & Children First
5233 N. Clark St., Chicago

Continue reading ‘Writing Lives: Books Beyond the Prison Bars—Weds., March 25 at Women & Children First’

New Volunteers: Orientation this Sunday, February 22

It may be cold outside, but you’ll find a warm atmosphere as a volunteer with Chicago Books to Women in Prison. It’s such a simple thing we do—selecting and sending books in response to requests we receive in the mail—and very rewarding.


Continue reading ‘New Volunteers: Orientation this Sunday, February 22′

Snow Day

SnowyBranchesAccording to the latest weather bulletin, we could be getting 18 inches of snow by tonight, so we’ll take a rare day off for safety’s sake.

We’ll be open next week as usual for volunteers and donation drop-offs.

New Volunteers: Orientation this Sunday, January 25

Please join us for our next orientation session, led by one of our experienced volunteers, this Sunday, January 25, 1–2 p.m. Then stay for our regular 2–5 p.m. work session. Get the details here. Continue reading ‘New Volunteers: Orientation this Sunday, January 25′

RSVP: Social Ways to Support Our Work

This time for once we’re not talking about Facebook or Twitter

In November a friend of ours in Texas told us she was planning a fundraiser in her home. We heard back from her recently:

I hosted a small Christmas party at my house where I invited all my girlfriends (many from a book club I belong to). I asked everyone to bring a used book, which we laid out on a large table and swapped among ourselves. I had a separate table displaying the letters from the inmates you sent me as well as a donation box. (I’d read on your site that it was better to give cash than to incur the cost of shipping books multiple times.) That way people could donate if they felt inclined and everyone went away with a “new” book.  I gave some door prizes as well. Everyone really liked the idea. I’m happy to contribute to your organization. My sister is incarcerated and I know how much books and reading has meant to her there.

The following day I posted a thank you on my Facebook page with a link to your Amazon wish list so that those who didn’t donate or couldn’t come to the party would have a chance to contribute after the fact.

Continue reading ‘RSVP: Social Ways to Support Our Work’

How Did We Do in 2014?

packedbookswowWe mailed 2,915 packages of books in this year that’s ending soon.

That’s about 8,700 books and a few dozen blank journals.

Nearly 30% more than in 2013!

How did we do it? This past year we improved some key processes. And we welcomed new volunteers with energy and ideas to our small but mighty team.

Continue reading ‘How Did We Do in 2014?’

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