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Wednesday, May 29
The Indiana Daily Student

Letters for a cause

Letters from volunteers to prisoners sit amongst books in Boxcar Books. The letters and books are sent to prisons as part of the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project.

Tucked in the back of Boxcar Books, an eclectic group of volunteers shuffled around a room. Books, paper and pencils in hand, the group worked to determine the responsibilities of working for Pages to Prisoners.

Matt Tanner, a two-year volunteer, lead the evening’s learning session Sunday. Pages exists to allow prisoners to continue expanding their minds while incarcerated, Tanner said, and to keep them from being ?isolated.

“The focus is giving people a human connection with people on the outside, so it’s not people on the inside versus people on the outside,” Tanner said.

Tanner is preparing an orientation for new volunteers that will take place Feb. 1.

Pages seeks to educate those in Midwestern prisons, placing emphasis on Indiana prisoners. The volunteer-powered organization sends recipients books and aims to keep them in touch with letter-writing volunteers.

Tanner said a large portion of Pages’ volunteers are IU students and all share a singular purpose in coming.

“People come independently because they believe in our mission,” Tanner said.

Often, a prisoner will request specific books that are not available in prison libraries. Pages exists to fulfill these requests. Tanner said Pages recently ordered a beekeeping book for an inmate, but most often sees requests for legal books.

“I think it speaks to good legal representation being costly and the demographic of people getting incarcerated,” Tanner said. “People feel they have to do their own research.”

Although Boxcar Books is a separate entity, the bookstore allows Pages to Prisoners to utilize space for their volunteer work in an act of support.

Richard Wehrenberg, a three-year volunteer, said Boxcar hosts its own events in solidarity with Pages to Prisoners.

“We’re holding an event this Wednesday to write letters to Marie Manson,” Wehrenberg said. “We usually do an event where we write letters to political prisoners.”

Like Tanner, Wehrenberg said he is also a long-term volunteer.

“I moved here and had a few friends who volunteered, and I volunteered with them,” Tanner said.

Boxcar volunteers work shifts in the bookstore logging book orders, working as cashiers.

Aside from a financial manager, Wehrenberg said every Boxcar worker is a ?volunteer.

Pages to Prisoners survives off the profits of Boxcar Books. The bookstore began off long-term loans and doesn’t receive money from the city of Bloomington or from Perry Township — both frequently-used sources for non-profit ?funding.

Boxcar is financially self-sufficient, said Bloomington’s Director for Human and Neighborhood Development Lisa Abbott.

“I go back 15 years and I’ve never seen Boxcar file a grant,” Abbott said.

Tanner said the work Pages does matters to people and he sees real results.

“We have people come in and tell us that they got a book from us while they’re in prison,” Tanner said. “We have people tell us we helped.”

He said volunteering for Pages is important because it humanizes people who often have their dignity taken from them.

“The state makes laws and determines what is ‘good,’” Tanner said. “But I would encourage people to challenge themselves and be surprised.”

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