We often use our blog space to discuss the work of our criminal punishment reform advocates and program coordinators. This time, however, we’re exploring our work through the eyes of our longtime volunteer, Ed Hunt. A former minister and native Wisconsinite, Ed’s been driving every week from Green Valley to Tucson to volunteer at our office for more than six years.
AFSC-AZ: How did you end up volunteering with us?
Ed: The church [my wife and I] attend—the Good Shephard Church out in Sahuarita—had a series of panels called “Faith & Justice.” One of the panelists was [AFSC-AZ Program Director] Caroline Isaacs, and her presentation mentioned that she’s always looking for volunteers to help with a variety of things. The next week, I called and made an appointment, came down, and I said, “I can do that!” I started in April of 2012.
AFSC-AZ: What’s your typical day at AFSC-AZ look like?
Ed: It’s all [about the] computer and sending letters out. Responding to letters that we get from state prisoners. And in some cases, like today, I am responding to prisoners in other states.
I am far more concerned about how those of us who are not system-involved can become more system-aware.
AFSC-AZ: What do you usually encounter in these letters?
I put them in two categories: Letters of complaint, and letters requesting resources. Typically, prisoners ask about the process of getting out, or the process of getting back into society, where they might live, where they might work, where they might get food and shelter—that kind of thing. Other than that, it’s a wide variety. We get mail from [incarcerated] veterans who want to know about their VA benefits, [individuals with] Hepatitis C, and then people who are looking for family they haven’t heard from in a while. Unfortunately, we can’t help everyone.
AFSC-AZ: What is the most important thing you’ve learned volunteering with us?
I am far more sensitive to what’s going on in the state prison system, and moved, and… angry. And whatever feeling I might want to have about how bad it is and how badly treated the prisoners are. They are basically, I think, understood as not human. So, [my wife and I] just learned how we can spend our donation money from time to time, our advocacy, and I love to be part of our church committee on racial justice.
AFSC-AZ: How has your view of the criminal punishment system changed since you started volunteering?
When I was in the ministry, I was aware of the criminal punishment system, but I was never in touch with it necessarily unless I visited the jail in our town. I didn’t really have hard opinions other than that I felt it was important. And way back when I was 16, I spent four hours in jail. And that was because we borrowed some lumber from a store so we could build a hut for us to hang out in. That didn’t work out very well! Those four hours had an impact on me. I said to myself, “I never want to go back to a situation like that again.” So, this terrible teen turned himself around a little bit, went to college, and went into the ministry and started to read a little bit more. My perspective now is that prisons and jails are places of almost torture, especially when you get to solitary confinement and supermax prisons. I am far more concerned about how those of us who are not system-involved can become more system-aware.
AFSC-AZ: What’s your favorite memory of the past six-plus years at AFSC-AZ?
It’s been a fun place to come to volunteer. I look forward to it and It’s never felt like, “Oh God, I gotta get up and go to Tucson again…” In my time with AFSC-AZ, I’ve been to concerts, I’ve been to presentations. I think all the outside programs that are offered have been meaningful and very helpful. And just the camaraderie—everyone gets along. Everybody likes everybody! I have not sensed any tension in this office in my six and a half years.
AFSC-AZ: Any advice for future volunteers?
Stay with it, be patient, learn, process. It will take a new person, I think, roughly two months to learn what it is that I do and to do it at a comfort level they find meaningful. Be steady, be punctual. These are just my rules for any place where I work or volunteer. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from the other staff members when you need it.
Thank you, Ed! Your years of compassion and volunteerism are so appreciated!
If you want to volunteer for AFSC-AZ, contact us or leave a comment.