A Special Donation in Memory of Kristine

Recently we received several boxes of GED books, workbooks, dictionaries, blank journals and many other books. The woman dropping them off explained that the donation was in memory of her daughter Kristine, who died two years ago. At a small gathering on what would have been Kristine’s 23rd birthday, family and friends brought books for donation to CBWP.

As a student at Boston College, Kristine had volunteered as a tutor at the local prison. We’re grateful for the generous donation and honored to share what Kristine wrote about her experience. 

One extracurricular activity that has had a special impact on me since I’ve begun college is my involvement in Boston College’s “4Boston” program. 4Boston is a diverse program that spans numerous placements throughout the city. Students are divided into small groups for three hours of service per week, as well as a weekly reflection meeting.

My placement within this program is at Suffolk County’s House of Corrections, a detainment and prison facility for individuals with sentences of 2½ years or fewer. My role is to tutor, specifically to prepare prisoners to take their GED.

I can honestly say that choosing to participate in this placement has been the best decision I have made all year. I chose it simply because it scared me, but in facing that fear and uncertainty I have learned much more about myself and about society as a whole than I thought possible.

Criminals are looked down upon very harshly by society, and for a long time I had clumped all prisoners into one stereotype. But the opportunity to talk to the prisoners face to face, to see each as an individual learner, has made me realize just how similar all people are. Some of the stories I have heard break my heart, in the way that anyone, in their shoes, could have made the same mistakes that led them to prison. One of my tutoring sessions was teaching simple multiplication to an inmate. If I hadn’t had my parents pushing me to excel in school, if teachers didn’t expect a certain standard from me, would I expect it from myself? Maybe I wouldn’t be able to multiply either. I have heard more stories of hard-earned hope, redemption, and progress there than I have in any class material for school. This placement has educated me in a heartbreaking but very necessary way.

Our lives are by no means completely determined by circumstances, but hearing the stories of prisoners has put a sobering face on my idyllic version of the world in all of its unfairness. Making a mistake in my shoes might mean a parent’s disapproval or housing probation from a university. The same mistake, made just a few miles away in a completely different world, may mean jail time that lands an individual in a cycle of arrests, because they do not have a helping hand or social safety net to get them out of the situation.

Seeing the overwhelming injustice of our society sometimes makes me feel powerless, but seeing it close up in my tutoring visits to the House has given me an entirely new viewpoint on social justice, and has made me examine my actions and their implications and consequences more critically than ever before. Volunteering at the House has opened my eyes to the society that lies under the face of a city and has forever altered me in an inquisitive way.

Kristine Topel
March 2009

891 packages so far in 2021

Packages carrying books of all kinds and composition books to women and trans people locked up across the country! (In 2020—with our capacity drastically cut due to COVID-19 precautions—we sent 1,964 packages. In 2019, we sent 5,117 packages; in 2018, 4,852.) Big, big thanks to all our supporters because we couldn’t do it without you, especially in this most difficult time. (updated June 14, 2021)

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