This guest blog post is by Addie Lass, one of the pen pals with CFI’s Freethought Books Project. The Freethought Books Project provides donations of freethought and secular literature to inmates. We also have a pen pal program that matches up freethinking volunteer pen pals with inmates looking for a connection with someone who shares their worldview.
I decided to become a pen pal with the Freethought Books Project because I’ve always enjoyed writing and receiving letters. It is a dying art that I would like to keep alive as long as possible. It has always been important to me to find people who have a different world view and I’m always looking learn something new.
When I heard about the Freethought Books Project, I saw it as a unique opportunity to correspond with someone with a different set of experiences than myself. While I have written to people in prison, I’ve never written to a stranger, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered if I would even have anything to talk about with the person I was writing to. When I applied, I wasn’t sure if I would be paired with a freethinker or not. While it didn’t matter to me, I am happy that I was. It has been great to be able to correspond with someone who I can consider a peer. It’s much easier to talk about my interests and what is happening in my life because I don’t have to explain myself. It is refreshing to just be able to talk about what is on my mind, instead of having to constantly defend my point of view. It has been nice to have someone outside of my everyday life to talk to about things and to learn about new things.
My pen pal and I exchange comics at the end of every letter. They usually include a story or reason behind each comic strip and it certainly adds a little something extra to brighten my day. For the few hours I spend reading and responding to a letter, I receive so much more than sharing a few words. So far, I’ve learned that it is okay to make light of things, even though my pen pal is incarcerated. I don’t have to pretend that everything in my life is going well either. They have taught me about how to take things in stride and to look at the good aspects of things whenever possible. It is great to talk about the books we like, and we are often recommending different titles to each other. Also, I was happy to find out that my references to certain TV shows and other things were not completely lost on my pen pal.
As a freethinker, I think it is important to reach out to people in whatever ways you can and remain connected to one another. In many ways, we are isolated from each other and can tend to forget that we exist in almost every part of our society. This project has allowed me to reach out in a new way, learn about an experience I’ve never been through and meet another member of the freethought community. I believe that if we are to truly thrive as a community, we need to reach out to our marginalized members, acknowledge their contributions and recognize their humanity.