Prison Book Clubs!

Hello everyone! Hope you all are doing well on this fine Labor Day. I wanted to let all of you know about an interesting book that just came out this past June titled The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but from what I can tell, it looks like a great new addition to prison library literature.

One of my colleagues recently started a book club at the prison she works at, and told me of the success that she’s had after her group read To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. Hearing about her successful book club made me experience a pang of jealousy. That’s the one thing that I didn’t do as a prison librarian that I regret not doing. I encourage you, if you have a state library that is willing to partner with your prison library to provide a large set of the same book to read, by all means contact them and have them supply you with a loan. They would be more than happy to help you achieve your goals!

Book clubs help prisoners in a variety of ways.

1.) They help bring a sense of community into the prison.

2.) They encourage free thought and expression.

3.) Book clubs explore different cultures and issues inmates may not have had a chance to experience before.

4.) They also promote higher thinking and cause and effect analysis.

5.) Book clubs raise awareness of social issues and allow inmates to explore them in a consequence-free environment.

Take the initiative and get out there and be a transformative librarian! I’ve never head of a prison book club that wasn’t successful. The inmates will be happy and appreciative, and so will the CO’s that have to interact with them.

P.S. think about getting prison staff to interact with the book club. Have the warden or a well respected case manager be a guest reader or participant. Not only will the inmates get a kick out of it, participation from prison staff shows another side to the staff person, one that the inmates can relate to.

P.S.S. Remember this month is Library Card Sign-up Month. Since prison libraries do not use library cards (at least I’ve never heard of any), use this month to create awareness of library services to both staff and inmates.

Remember, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at librarianbehindbars@gmail.com

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Pokemon Behind Bars: Pikachu Scared Straight

While inmates do not have the ability to play Pokemon Go, you can still do things in the library to allow them to participate in the sensation. I’ve seen so many articles and blog posts about public and academic libraries using Pokemon Go to attract patrons (like this posting by School Library Journal) but feel frustrated because in prison, inmates are not allowed to have cellphones. This puts prison libraries in a bind. So I thought of a few things prison librarians can do to remedy this.

#1 – Do a Pokemon scavenger hunt in the library by purchasing figurines or cutouts of Pokemon. Hide them in different areas around the library and provide inmates with a scavenger hunt checklist. Offer a prize for the hunt, possibly placing all the correctly identified Pokemon scavenger lists into a raffle and giving a prize to the one selected by random draw.

#2 – Consider hosting an art contest. Have inmates join one of the three Pokemon Go teams (Instinct or Valor or Mystic), and then draw a picture of a new Pokemon character they imagine that then can be taped on the wall under a team banner that you create.

#3 – Purchase Pokemon graphic novels and create a display that will be appealing to patrons. Catchy phrases such as, “Gotta Read them All!” can be used to create posters and flyers.

#4 – Do a “Guess That Pokemon” daily contest. Consider printing out a darkened Pokemon silhouette and having patrons guess what Pokemon it is.

I know some of these things may sound silly, but I think patrons would find it interesting and competitive, especially the scavenger hunt and art contest. Activities like this help inmates feel connected to the outside world, allowing them to participate with friends and family who are doing the same things they are. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please email librarianbehindbars@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: You should contact your principal/deputy warden/warden before deciding to do any of the above suggested activities. Remember, security is paramount. Also, be aware of copyright/trademark issues pertaining to Pokemon. Pokemon is a registered trademark of Nintendo, and should be treated as such.

 

 

I’m Back…Blogging, not in Prison

Hello everyone! I hope you are doing well. That short hiatus of mine didn’t last long, did it? I am back, giving advice to prison/pre-prison librarians, even though I’m no longer a prison librarian, myself. I hope to continue to inspire and provide useful information to those working in this specialist position, and to contribute to this much neglected library science niche.

Firstly, for those of you that do not know, Dover Thrift is giving away 75 bundles of 75 books to libraries. All you have to do is enter the contest for a chance to win 75 free books for your library. Follow this LINK for the official contest page. You only have until May 31st to do so, so I suggest you get applying! When I saw this posted, I immediately thought of prison libraries and how a donation of 75 books goes a long way. Hopefully one of you receives one of the book bundles!

I will begin checking the blog’s email again. So, if you have any questions about prison librarianship, or want me to cover a particular topic in prison librarianship, please send me an email at librarianbehindbars@gmail.com.

Glad to be back. Take care.

 

The End…or is it?

Hello everyone! Hope you are all having a great Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Yule. It has almost been two years to the day that I started this blog, and posted my first true post as a prison librarian on 12/24/2013. It is with excitement and somberness, that I am retiring Librarian Behind Bars. I hope you learned a lot, and have been inspired to delve more into the exciting world of prison librarianship.

Over the past two years, I’ve shared with you the things that I encounter on a daily basis. Hopefully, I’ve shown you that not everything you see on TV and in the movies is accurate when it comes to prisons. Please, continue to support prison libraries; continue to be involved and supportive of positive reentry opportunities for inmates. Prison librarians have the wonderful opportunity to help others better themselves before rejoining society as a free persons. Who knows? The simple, positive interaction held between a prison librarian and patron might even save lives.

The librarianbehindbars@gmail.com email account will not be checked from this point forward. If you are a prison librarian, I hope that you stay safe, professional, and encouraged. If you are a library science student, I hope that you consider prison librarianship carefully to determine if it’s right for you. If you are not a library professional, I hope that you stay curious.

Thank-you all for a wonderful two years.

Mother Theresa in the Prison Library

Hello everyone! I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is going well. Mine has been super. It’s nice to spend time with family and recharge much depleted batteries. I don’t know why, but last week left me drained. The inmate patrons were in rare form. I had one that kept asking me if he could have an ink pen, and when I told him no, he tried to steal the one I had attached to my desk right in front of me. I’ll give him credit, though. he at least tried to hide it by placing a single sheet of copy paper over his hands while he was attempting to do it. Then, I had someone with their entire upper body under the computer table messing with the computer cords. I went over to him and ask him what he was doing. He said nothing, so I took down his name and number and then after he left, I went over and did a closer inspection. There were finger trails through the thick coat of dust on top of one of the computer monitors. Caught ya, buddy! Lastly (not really, but for the sake of boring you, we’ll call it the last atypical thing of the week), I taught a workshop on astrobiology & astrophysics last week, and I put a sign next to the sign-in sheet to the attention of the ‘pen thief’ who keeps stealing my pens during workshops. I told him that I’d catch him, and to leave my pens alone. Someone wrote on the sign: “Please…I’m too good.” My pen was still there, so I guess he chickened out.

A few weeks ago, I hung a sign in front of my desk. It is a quote from Mother Theresa. Here it is:

Mother Theresa

I have this now hanging in my office, as well; I read it every day to remind myself why I’m a prison librarian, and the struggles and frustrations that I go through mean something.

I have been passing copies of the quote out to patrons that have asked for them. A patron last week came up to me and said that he felt really bad, but he would try better next time. I asked him what he meant. He said that he has the Mother Theresa quote taped on the wall of his cell, and he reads it every day. He said that another inmate did him wrong the other day, and he blew up on him. He said he didn’t get physical, but he could have handled the situation differently. He said that the quote has been helping him not be frustrated with people and it reminds him to be kind to others, even when they are not kind to him.

This made me realized that the smallest things you do in prison, especially as a prison librarian/teacher, can make a huge difference in the lives of others. I didn’t know that by giving that inmate a copy of the quote would have such a profound effect on him, but it did. Feel free to hang this quote in your library. Who knows? It might help an inmate patron in a way that you didn’t think possible.

Have a great rest of the month! Let me know if you have any specific questions, or want me to touch on a certain topic on my next blog post. You can reach me at librarianbehindbars@gmail.com.

Busy Times

Be vigilant, prison librarians, during times of high stress or a busy work day. I’ve noticed that when I appear to be really busy or working on a project, inmate workers or patrons will ask me permission to do something. Then, when I reflect later in the day on their request, I realize that they were taking advantage of me being busy, hoping that I would give them a response in their favor because I was distracted.

Be careful. Don’t be so distracted that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings or to the questions that your workers or patrons ask you. Give thoughtful consideration to ALL requests, no matter how big or small. The smallest request might end up having the biggest impact later on.

This year is almost over! When I think back on 2015, I remember all the things our library has accomplished and done. I am happy to be a prison librarian, and hope that you are, too. If you are interested in being a prison librarian, read my previous blog posts and it will give you a good idea on what we see and hear on a daily basis.

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo again this year. Why don’t you participate, too? Find out more HERE

As always, if you have questions, email me at librarianbehindbars@gmail.com.

“Hey! The pope’s in town!”

This post is a collection of thoughts and reflection for September. I’ve been very busy over the last couple months. That’s why this post is coming so late.

The title for this post was inspired by an inmate that came to the library (out of place after he visited the pill line, of course) and announced, “Hey! The pope’s in town!” He then asked me, “Are you a pope fan?” It is times like these that I wish I kept a journal of things patrons have said. I should also like add that we had two interlibrary loans requests the past couple of weeks that left me scratching my head.

The first request was for a book on deboning animals. I politely asked what he was talking about (forget the reference interview, for a moment). He told me that he wanted to know how to debone animals. I said, “OK, well tell me what exactly you want to know how to do. Is it animal specific? Do you want to know how to debone chickens? Cows? What is it exactly you are trying to find out?” [see how I used my excellent reference interview skills?]. He told me that he wanted to work in a slaughterhouse when he got out of prison. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a book on deboning animals. If you library experts find one, let me know.

The other interesting interlibrary loan request was for a book on fish farming. I thought that was kind of interesting, seeing that our prison may begin a trout farm program. But then the patron shattered my understanding of his need for the request (not that I need to understand, but for the sake of being a prison librarian, every request makes you question the secondary nature of it [i.e is the inmate up to something]). He said that he was searching for a book on fish farming, specifically “eels.” I told him that I would try. I didn’t find him a book specifically on eel farming, but I did get him a book on aquaculture. Also, I checked, and he doesn’t get out for some time, making me wonder why he wants to know how to farm eels in prison.

There is something that I want to share with other prison librarians and potential prison librarians. If an inmate ever walks up to you with a piece of paper talking about SSI benefits, and other benefits inmates can received when they get out of prison, look very carefully at it. I’ve been shown this paper many times, this week being the most recent. It quotes statutes for the state of Washington (Revised Code of Washington [R.C.W.]). If you’ve been working as a prison librarian for any amount of time, you get a grasp for looking up legal reference questions, specifically to the state you’re in. Very rarely do I get a request for federal United States Code (U.S.C.). but it happens. The piece of paper provides inmates with a list of benefits, but the benefits are state of Washington specific. Many inmate deflate when I reveal this to them. They don’t understand that it doesn’t pertain to them in the state that they’re in. Refer them to their case worker/manager.

It is good to note, that many inmates prepare and desire to get social security disability benefits when they are released. Consider creating an informational packet about SSI/SSD benefits and the qualifications people have to meet to obtain them.

Also, consider creating an informational packet on the FAFSA so inmates getting released who are interested in going to school, may be able to start preparing themselves accordingly. FAFSA.gov provides a printable PDF version of the FAFSA that inmates can fill out and mail in. The forms come with instructions, including a mailing address.

Signage! If your library doesn’t have clear, visible signage, consider buying new signs; if you cannot afford to purchase signs, consider creating them yourself, or ask your institution carpentry program to make them for you. These are helpful and make the library look more like a public library. That is your mission: create an atmosphere in the prison library that is welcoming, and prepares inmates to use a public library when they are released.

I know you get stressed, and I know that budgets are not always there, but keep trying to be the best librarian possible. Work with what you have. Use the resources available to you. Seek help from the surrounding community. I started asking local bookstores and libraries for book donations the month after I started, and we have obtained over ten thousand books, since then! Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.