Name: Serena Blackburn
From: Nunda, New York
School: Keshequa Central School
as long as I can remember, I have created and sent greeting cards to
incarcerated people. My mother volunteered at a maximum security
prison for many years before I was born and while pregnant with me.
After I was born, she was not able to enter the prison for some time,
so she began creating greeting cards for the inmates she knew. When I
was a bit older and she was able to reenter the prison, the practice
of sending cards was continued.
chose to create and send cards because many inmates have no family or
friends that keep in contact with them, and receiving greeting cards
can support a positive mindset in a bad living environment. Feeling
unacknowledged and lonely is not beneficial to any person, and the
greeting cards I help create can alleviate negative feelings in
incarcerated individuals. I have been participating in the
card-making for 14 years. I spend roughly 15 hours per year
decorating and signing cards and preparing envelopes.
biggest challenge as a volunteer has been to overcome some personal
bias against incarcerated individuals, developing a more open
mindset. As I grew up making these cards, I felt at times the men
receiving these cards did not deserve them, or that perhaps making
the cards was simply a waste of time. After maturing and discussing
these issues with my mother and others that participate in the
card-making, I learned that I could not judge whether the men
deserved the cards or not, because I did not know their history or
present efforts to improve themselves.
cards seem to bring about positive changes in the lives of the
recipients. The responses I receive are satisfying. The men say how
much they appreciate the cards, describing certain details of the
artwork, showing how much they care and pay attention. Although most
of us cannot be physically with them, we are still there in
community. I have learned about the prison system from the point of
view of an inmate through my volunteer work, as well as the dreams
and aspirations of some inmates for their current and future lives.
There are dynamics between inmates and staff of which I was not
considering the future, I see my actions continuing to make a
positive impact, and encouraging the inmates to look forward to their
futures. I aspire to bring hope and a positive outlook to those who
feel lonely or neglected. If I were to look back on this activity
later in my life, I think my activities will have made a positive
difference by continuing to show caring, acknowledgement, and
compassion. Many of these men will finish their prison sentences, and
will have a community to enter when they are released. I believe
previously incarcerated individuals will have a better chance of
success in their new communities if they have developed a positive
outlook during their final periods of incarceration.
life has worth.