Volunteers are the backbone of Book Clubs for Inmates (BCFI). We have close to 90 book club facilitators and 10 readers across Canada.
BCFI readers spend hours reading a variety of books, from literary classics to the latest best sellers. They explore fiction and non-fiction in various styles and genres. As they read, they always keep in mind the book club members. Will this book invite healthy conversations, create places for hope, and assist in developing new strategies for problem solving? Could ideas or scenarios in the book negatively impact their mental health? Might the book appeal to people from a variety of backgrounds?
BCFI facilitators go into federal institutions or halfway houses each month to engage members in conversations about books. They come prepared with ice breakers, discussion questions, and sometimes with supplementary material. They draw forth lively and robust conversations, even about books that were not well received. They create a safe and welcoming environment where all members, and all perspectives, are welcome. They model respect, empathy, and active listening.
Facilitators face many challenges. Prisons are often in remote locations and, in the winter especially, access can be difficult. Sometimes volunteers will arrive only to find the institution has been placed in lockdown. Within each club, membership varies based on transfers, releases, and scheduling conflicts. Yet through it all, facilitators persist, month after month. Most of our volunteers have been with us for several years, many since the first meeting of their club.
This week, on National Volunteer Week, we say thank you to BCFI volunteers across the country. None of the work we do would be possible without your dedication, compassion and commitment.