Friday, October 21, 2016
So, I am back because I have been working on a presentation lately with a prison librarian in my great new state and we are going to collaborate at a conference about how public libraries can help patrons re-entering society after incarceration. Because the topic of mass incarceration is being recognized as a serious issue lately-ish, people in positions to help other people are becoming more mindful of the need to help those whom society has forgotten about.
In preparation for our presentation, I watched Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th because if I am going to recommend it to others, I should know what it's all about. It's streaming on Netflix right now, and if you don't have Netflix, either get Netflix or watch it with someone who does. The film is extremely well done and will make you mad as hell. I had no idea that the 13th Amendment had a clause in it that allows slavery if you are convicted of a crime. That revelation made me start thinking a lot, and I Googled the Black Lives Matter campaign, because all I knew about them was hearsay. Black Lives Matter activists are featured prominently in the documentary, and their message is not that your life doesn't matter if you're not black, but that when we humanize this group that has been de-humanized for so long, we all win.
One part that struck a chord in their Guiding Principles under the Black Villages box was the commitment that they will "...support each other as extended families and 'villages' that collectively care for one another..." If you are in my generation, you all heard "It takes a village to raise a child" while growing up and I know I enjoyed having neighbor moms around to go to if I crashed my bike, wanted to play, or needed a cookie (or two) if my single mom was at work. Then, as I got older and made the decision to not have kids and didn't really have any little kids in my life, kids just became an annoying but necessary part of continuing the human race.
But then today it was 6 pm at the library and there were three young Latina girls who asked to use the phone to call their mom for a ride home, and the mom said she wouldn't be able to be there for 20 minutes. That's a problem when the library is closed, so the Children's Librarian and I waited with them in the lobby so they wouldn't be unattended outside the library in the rain where who knows what terrible things could happen to them. The librarian is awesome with kids (hence why she's a children's librarian) and they started telling silly jokes and riddles to pass the time. I went outside of my comfort zone and told them the only joke I know:
Me: "How many librarians does it take to change a light bulb?"
Girl #1: "Ummm, three!"
Girl #2: "TEN!"
Girl #3: "Zero!"
I loved their enthusiasm and when I told them the answer, "I don't know, but I'll look it up for you!" they all laughed and it was awesome, because honestly, I try to not deal with the kids too much because I am used to adults, having come from an adult prison, and I don't want them to hate me because I don't know how to interact with them haha. But this was a perfect example of what it means to have a village to care for you. I can see how having three kids would be chaotic to say the least, and if you live in an area where the native language is not your first language, it can be even more difficult to navigate and learn the norms. However, because she knew she could trust the library to entertain her kids and keep them safe while she shopped for groceries we were able to help her care for her family. Now, granted, we talked to her when she got there so that this wouldn't become an all-the-time thing, but we were there when she needed us, and I hope that she felt like we cared for her and that her life and her children's lives are important, because that's the key to fixing everything in my opinion is to treat everyone like they matter, because they do.
Here is the link to the trailer for 13th:
Until next time!
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Greetings, Dear Readers! It's your friendly neighborhood prison librarian coming to you for the last time as a prison librarian. Some really positive changes have happened in my life recently and my HB and I have made the big decision to pull up our roots, load up our dog, and move to a land far, far away where we have shiny new jobs.
It's weird thinking of myself as anything other than a prison librarian because I have spent so much time crafting that part of my identity. Once I realized that getting a job outside of prison was not what the universe wanted for me at the time, I threw myself into being the best prison librarian I could be and I endeavored to be the role model and mentor that was not there when I ended up in prison six long years ago. I must also admit that all the attention was fun when I was introduced as the prison librarian at cocktail parties, haha.
Landing my new job as a supervisor at a small public library was so whirlwind that it was hard to ignore the sign that it was time to turn to the next chapter in my life. It also proved to me that my job application tips are on point, so pay attention and review all the posts about hiring tips, future prison librarians. :-)
Spending six years in the unique, interesting, and oftentimes crazy environment that is a prison library changed me as a person. I overcame some extremely difficult personal struggles and learned what it is that really brings me joy: helping people. I know that I would not be where I am today without that amazing experience and the amazing people who mentored and challenged me along the way.
Leaving Mintern is the hardest part of this transition. She is one of my favorite people in the entire world, and I have never laughed so hard at work before she came on board. My dream is to poach her from prison and bring her with me into the public library world, because any library would be extremely lucky to have her on their staff. I am truly blessed to know her.
I am intrigued to see how my prison skills will play out in the public library world, so I tagged this post Goodbye but it is more of a See You Later. If any of you loyal readers have questions about being a prison librarian I am still more than happy to answer them for you. And I am still going to be in contact with Mintern so if you really need a prison insider perspective, I can forward your questions. If any situations are as hilarious, or are relevant to the blog, then I will still keep posting.
Thank you all so much, dear readers, for your continued support of this blog. I wish you all the best of luck in your quest to become prison librarians. It is indeed a noble profession and you will touch more lives than you ever thought possible. The library patrons you meet in prison will try you and test you and make you so frustrated, but they will also be the most thankful patrons you will ever meet, and you will definitely make a positive impact on them and in the world.
Until next time!
Monday, December 21, 2015
Conversation between Mintern and myself today:
Mintern *re-classifying books*: "OMG, HOW do I get the spine labels to print??"
Me: "You have to use the spine label template I emailed you a while back. The file has that exact name."
Mintern: "I have that, but how do you get them to go into the template?"
Me: "You copy and paste them!"
Mintern: "I did that and it puts them all on one!"
Me: "You have to do it one at a time."
Mintern: *facepalm* "I quit!"
Hahaha. That's prison for ya!
Until next time!
Friday, December 18, 2015
During December, most people are busy decorating their homes with lights, hanging stockings, and buying presents. In prison, there are still Christmas trees, although they are made with toilet paper cores and typically don't last much longer than the next count time because holiday decorations are contraband. One of my clerks was complaining that she had THREE of her Special Toilet Paper Roll Christmas Trees taken in shakedowns (by The Grinch, to hear her tell it haha) and all I could think was "HOW DID YOU GET THAT MUCH TOILET PAPER???" She also claimed that the staff were taking them to decorate their own homes because they were so awesome. In addition to that being against the rules, how cool could they really be? Although you do never know. I have seen some pretty amazing creations in prison, and not just the paper mache di--....Um...this is a Christmas blog so I am not going to go there right now lol.
Another really awesome thing we do in prison is decorate the library. One year during the Winter Reading Program the clerks made some intricate snowflakes using the patterns in this book and I loved them so much, I laminated all of them so we could hang them from the ceiling tiles year after year. (A few years after I started doing that, I read in the rules that absolutely nothing was supposed to be hung from the ceiling....oops...) We also put red paper Santa hats on EVERYTHING, and we put a really big one on the giant alien picture that one of our clerks drew that was supposed to hang on the wall during Supernatural Month but ended up being a year-round decoration. (It also has a shamrock hat for St. Patrick's Day, a heart hat for Valentine's Day, a pirate hat for Talk Like a Pirate Day...ok I made that last one up but you can bet it will have one in September if that clerk still works there then.)
Because so many of my patrons have kids at home, our reading program is REALLY popular at Christmas. It's good though, because the moms get to send their kids a present with their voice or face, and the kids get early childhood literacy, so it's a win-win! Another way parents in prison can get their kids presents is through the Angel Tree program. When I was little and used to go to church, my mom, sister and I would pick a child's name off the Angel Tree and buy them some presents and some warm clothes. It was a great way for my mom to instill the value of giving and not just receiving during the holidays, although maybe she did it too well because now I get so excited to give people presents I want them to open them NOW. ;-) I never realized until I started working in prison that those gifts were for children of incarcerated parents. It's a great program for the kids, but seeing it from the other side and the sense of entitlement that the women had when they were talking about signing all their kids up for Angel Tree...it just made me wish they were a little more humble about it and thankful that people would go out of their way to help their children have a good Christmas. Instead, it was more like they were owed this opportunity and people would FLIP OUT about how unfair it was if they missed the deadline to submit the info to the Case Managers. But, the kids can't help how the parents are, and they shouldn't suffer because of their parent's poor life choices, so, dear readers, if you see an Angel Tree anywhere and you can spare some extra money, please consider helping out.
And no matter what holiday you are celebrating (or not celebrating) this time of year, may you have many blessings and may this upcoming new year be your best one yet.
Until next time!
Monday, December 14, 2015
Friday, December 11, 2015
Probably the most common question I get is: "So....how did you end up in prison?" The truth is, I ended up in prison completely by accident and it was all my best librarian friend's fault because she sent me the job link and said, "I think you should apply! I see this job open all the time!" Ha, that should have been our first sign! Anyway... I am glad I did end up there though because everything happens for a reason, and if I didn't go to prison I probably would have just kept bartending and wishing I had a job in my field, and I wouldn't have gotten this amazing life-changing experience and I would not have had enough character because when I was little and I didn't want to do something my mom would tell me I should do it anyway because "It builds character." When I got older I told her I had enough character, thankyouverymuch, but now that I am even older, I am finally at the age where I realize that my mom was right. :-)
The second most common question I get is, "Are you scared?" followed closely by, "Do you have a gun?" The answer to both is no. No, I am not scared because I have built a good rapport with staff and patrons and I have laid down the law enough times that people know I am not one of those staff that can be manipulated. And no, I don't have a gun because they are not allowed, and that would be so terrible if an inmate was able to take my gun away and shoot me with it. After switching to professional dress, I don't even carry a radio or OC anymore, and I am ok with that.
The next most popular question is, "Do you watch Orange is the New Black?" Also, no. I read the book and thought it was interesting, and I chose to ignore the part where Piper gives detailed instructions about how to steal chicken from the chow hall because I believe in intellectual freedom a little bit more than the restrictive censorship rules, but I watched one and a half episodes on Netflix and decided to stop because I didn't like the way staff was portrayed in the series. To be fair, one of the wardens I know actually met her and said the same thing about the series I did and he said she apologized and explained that it was the show producers making it like that for dramatic effect. The one thing I do like about that show though is that it humanizes the prison population, and reminds people on the outside that offenders are actually so much more than just their crime or their DOC number.
Whenever I meet non-prison librarians, they will ask what our collection looks like. Many people think offenders have different reading habits and are very surprised when they hear that prison library patrons' reading tastes are the same as yours and mine. We need to give them the opportunity to read for themselves, because if we censor all the things, how are they going to learn to make decisions for themselves about what is good for them? People naturally want to do what other people tell them they can't, so if a prison bans Robert Greene or Laurell K. Hamilton because they don't like the "unsavory" content, they are actually not doing their offenders any favors.
Until next time!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Here is a great opportunity for a professional prison librarian position that pays well and is in a town where the cost of living is low:
Librarian II--Canon City, CO
However, you have to be a resident of Colorado, so if you are (or can be)-APPLY!