Dr. Sandy Joy, Sebastian Dionicio, Suzanne Moore Dr. Sandy Joy, Sebastian Dionicio, Suzanne Moore

Human Books on Loan at The Masthead

Tuesday, 29 August 2023 14:50

by Sebastian Dionicio

Wilkes County Public Library held its first Human Library on August 22, 2023, at The Masthead, located in North Wilkesboro, in honor of American novelist and short-story writer Ray Bradbury, where a diverse selection of human "books" were available for "check out" and "readers," like me, were encouraged to look beyond preconceived notions of others and instead to the person who lies within the "pages."

Having read Bradbury's acclaimed Fahrenheit 451 in high school, I was eager to attend the event where, much like in Fahrenheit 451, storytelling served as an outlet for thought and creativity and a means of understanding the diverse individuals who live in our society.

The human "books," ranging from anti-death penalty activists to breastfeeding mothers, Native American educators, civil war historians, lavender farmers, peaceful protesters, and even "chicken-loving hippies," were fascinating and thought-provoking "reads," and I am truly fortunate to have met such wonderful and insightful locals.

Shandin Woodruff, for example, highlighted the significance of offering breastfeeding assistance to low-income communities. She shared her journey of receiving an emergency c-section, battling postpartum depression, and lacking the necessary resources to seek support following her first pregnancy.

"You can hire a lactation consultant, you can do these things, but it costs money, and most insurances don't cover it," Woodruff explained.

"My ultimate goal is to help normalize breastfeeding and offer support to those that want to breastfeed so no one has to go through what I did in my journey," she shared.

These days, Woodruff works as a trained breastfeeding peer counselor at the WIC office in North Wilkesboro, where she is determined "to help people meet their breastfeeding goals with evidence-based information and support."

I am grateful for the discussion we had, and I agree that "if you see a mom breastfeeding, know that it took a lot of freaking work for her to get there, so just pat her on the back and say you are doing a good job instead of judging."

At the Human Library event, I also stumbled upon another interesting "read." I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Sandy Joy, a professor of Sociology at Rowan University and an anti-death penalty activist, who, on October 20, 2022, embarked on an eight-month cross-country RV trip, where she interviewed execution witnesses, regardless of the reason for being present in the death chamber, and documented their emotional firsthand recollections.

"With this project, I set out to interview all different categories of people who are [execution] witnesses," Joy mentioned.

She wanted her sample to be a mix because these individuals—spiritual advisers, journalists, former wardens, defense attorneys, and families of murder victims—all witnessed gassings, hangings, executions by firing squad, electrocutions, and lethal injections, many of which were botched, and now share a common interest to eradicate the death penalty.

"No one is born a serial killer...and so, as a sociologist, I believe with these horrific murderers, balls were dropped by society, and you can always look back at the mitigation, which is the evidence presented as to why they became this way," Joy commented.

"You see all of the places where we could have helped them to stop this trainwreck before it happened," she elaborated.

Recently, Dr. Sandy Joy has been working with a German documentarian in Brooklyn, who also opposes the death penalty in America, on an upcoming documentary featuring the stories of the execution witnesses documented throughout her travels.

Speaking with Dr. Sandy Joy was an enlightening experience, and I admired her compassion toward others, even at their worst times. Is it hard to be compassionate toward people who have committed horrible crimes? Sure, absolutely, and in extreme cases, it may even be impossible; however, Dr. Sandy Joy made an interesting point when she argued that "two wrongs don't make a right," which is why she urges society to acknowledge the signs early on to take necessary action before it’s too late.

Maureen Dintino, the "chicken-loving hippie," was another joyful "read." Having lived with chickens for most of her life, Maureen touched on her love for watching and studying chickens, "not like a scientist or anything," she playfully emphasized and shared several compelling facts about chickens and their eggs. 

"If a chicken [egg] has a weak or paper-like shell, you want to give [Hens] oyster shells, or a calcium supplement, to thicken and harden [their] shells," Maureen explained.

She also stressed that "you don't have to have a rooster to have eggs."

"You only need a rooster...for two reasons. One, [the rooster] is supposed to be a guardian and protect his girls, and the other is if you want to hatch your own babies—if you want fertilized eggs," she asserted.

I found Maureen to be an entertaining "read," and I admired her love for the simple things in life. She was passionate about her love for chickens, and I couldn't help but laugh with her as she joyfully articulated herself dressed in her chicken-themed getup. Maureen was also a nice contrast to the more serious "reads" I encountered at the Human Library event and further highlighted the diversity of the human "books" available for checkout.

Overall, I felt pleased to have "read" an incredible array of stories at the Human Library event and left wondering about the human "books" in Wilkes County that remain "unread." With a heightened awareness of the diverse people who call Wilkes County home, I look forward to "reading" next year's collection. I wholeheartedly believe that people start to live life when they step out of their comfort zone, and I encourage readers to refrain from judging others solely because they are different and to consider attending next year's event. Who knows? Maybe you will learn something about yourself along the way. After all, like Maureen Dintino said, "Learning about things...through others with firsthand experience is invaluable."