Monday, April 14, 2014

"And other duties as required"

Many of us have read this additional little caveat in our job description at one time or another.  The infamous catch-all so higher-ups can justify having you clean the bathroom, or go on a coffee run, or various other menial tasks that need to happen on a daily basis but are too detailed to go in the job description proper.  Today, my librarian skills were utilized for some other duties, as required.

Our facility is currently suffering from a norovirus outbreak.  This is something that I have heard of happening at other facilities, but we had not been stricken prior to today.  Since prison is such a contained environment, disease can spread virulently and quickly.  (For more information, please refer to the previous blog posts "Staying Healthy in Prison, Parts 1 and 2.")  Between last night and this morning, more than 100 offenders had come down with it.  I hadn't heard about any staff yet, but one of my minions called off today so............

Whenever anything weird happens in prison, future prison librarians, everyone is expected to drop everything and help out in the areas of greatest need-typically kitchen or laundry.  Today it was kitchen, since the kitchen workers were under quarantine.  I made my way down into the chaos and helped out by wiping down one hot tray carrier.  Since that was the last one that needed to be cleaned, I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes trying to find a place to be useful when one of the sergeants said, "You need something to do?  Come with me!"  She led me to the giant walk in cooler, showed me a huge baking rack full of butter cups and said "You are going to make some more of these."  I then proceeded to scoop butter into tiny butter cups with a cute little mini-ice cream scooper for FOUR HOURS.

When you consider that my professional librarian salary is significantly higher than what the offenders make ($.60/hr vs. ~$25/hr) the state was definitely not getting a good deal for their money.  However, when all of the cheap labor is laid up with vomiting and diarrhea, maybe not such a bad deal.  I can tell you though, that I (and my admin sidekick who also got roped into scooping butter) made the best butter cups the kitchen staff had EVER SEEN IN THEIR LIVES.  You do what you gotta do.  And luckily, after we had scooped approximately 1,070 ounces of butter, we were relieved by offender kitchen staff who had been deemed healthy enough to work.  It definitely gives me a greater appreciation of why people want to get out of the kitchen and come work in the library, that's for sure.

In the almost five years that I have worked as a prison librarian, I have preformed many "other duties as required."  Here a list so you, dear readers, can make an informed decision as to whether or not you would be interested in our other duties you may (read: will) be required to do in addition to your daily library tasks:

- Canteen:  This is by far the best job I have ever had during a lockdown.  The Canteen staff was awesome, you could definitely tell they love their jobs.  Basically, we just continued to fill the orders along the assembly line.  10 chicken ramens?  Check!  2 beef sticks?  Check!  1 packet jalapeno cheese spread?  Nope, not on my line, pass it down!  Plus, they had snacks because all the vendors give them free samples.  If you are ever in a lockdown and they are taking volunteers for canteen, definitely hop up and go.  You will not regret it.

- Laundry:  Kind of boring, just folding sheets.  Boring, that is, until you realize that all of the sheets have writing on them because the offenders write love letters to each other on their sheets.  Interesting.  I was also joking that on each sheet we should write "Folded with love by the Library."  It was good times.

- Sweep Team:  I have been on three sweep teams during lockdowns, which are basically teams of two people who go around look for people in places they shouldn't be.  One time I was sweeping with the Hearings Lieutenant and we went in an office and he kicked under the desk without looking so I yelled "If you are hiding under your desk we are going to kick you in the FACE!"  Luckily, the office was empty so we didn't have to answer to shift commander as to why we kicked someone in the face who was just hiding for a security monitoring exercise...

- Transport Driver: This wasn't really a lockdown, per se, but someone was in big trouble so I had to drive them back to Big Prison with one of the Recreation Staff.  That was crazy, but at least the offender was well-behaved so I didn't have to drive all crazy like the Transporter.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  The rumor is that this could last for a few days.  If it does, I hope I can just do library work, but if not I am sure I will have more fun stories for you next time!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yes, they are finally getting it!! Oh wait......

One of my main goals in my position is to do outreach for staff to help them realize what a benefit the library is to the facility and also how to identify overdue library books when they are shaking down an offender's cell.  I walked into work a few days ago and was greeted thus by the lobby officer:

Officer: "You will be SO PROUD of me!"
Me: "Oh yeah?  What happened?"
Officer: "We were shaking down an offender this morning and she had a copy of 50 Shades of Grey and my fellow staff said 'She can't have this!' and I said 'Oh yes she can!'"

I was so thrilled that this officer understands the idea of Freedom to Read, and I was so disappointed to have to tell him "Actually, that is one they CAN'T have....."  But, I reminded him that they can always call the library for clarification and that I was very pleased with him for supporting intellectual freedom.  Woohoo, my library promotion is working!! :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On the issue of Moral Outrage

Good evening, dear future prison librarians.  As many of you may or may not know, I am an Aries, in addition to being a Millennial, so I am a fiery and passionate person when it comes to an issue that I care about.  As you may recall from my previous posts on the current Censorship Ridiculousness we are experiencing in the correctional facility that shall remain nameless, I am a proponent of Intellectual Freedom and the Prisoners' Right to Read.  Recently, one of the books from my collection that was sent to the Powers That Be for a decision on how much nudity is too much nudity was deemed too nude, and required to be de-accessioned.
When I heard the final decision, I immediately thought, "What the BLEEEEEEEEP!"  And then I thought, "This book is a work of art by a world-renowned photographer, how can they say that THIS art is NOT ART?"  When I expressed my dismay to my consultant the conversation went like this:
Me: "I am MORALLY OUTRAGED at this censorship decision!!!"
Consultant: "Do you mean you are concerned because it goes against the grain of librarians' professional standards?"
Me: "Sure, that sounds good."
Consultant: "Well, I understand your feelings, but just remember that you must follow the policy even if you don't agree with it."
Me: *Uncharitable thoughts about how the Nazis also preached following policy when clearly it was not morally right.* "SIGH.  FINE."
It didn't really end like that.  I said more professional things but that's what I was thinking.  Then I had a weekend and some time away from the situation and I came to some realizations:
1.)  Moral outrage against the Nazis is completely ok, because that was horrendous.  Censorship of female breasts...maybe not as much of a world crisis.
2.)  I can only change what I can, and I must learn to accept those things that I cannot change.  Also, I can control how I react to things, even if I don't control those things.  BUT, luckily for me, the only constant in prison is change and maybe when there is a new regime there will be a new policy when they realize that there is such a thing (according to the Sex Offender Treatment mental health professionals) as healthy sexuality and the human body won't be seen as something that is dirty and should be covered up.
3.)  While we TRY to run on a public library model, we are NOT a public library.  It is still our responsibility to get to yes in a culture built on no, but we also need to realize when it is time to accept the no, at least for the time being.
So, loyal readers, that is what has been going on in my neck of the woods lately.  I see many more de-accessioned books in my future but it is what it is.  I will still continue to promote the benefits of allowing people to make their own reading choices and maybe one day someone who is in charge of creating the policy will agree with me.  Until next time!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Prison Library Irony

Today while double checking the patrons' books, we discovered that someone had stolen twelve pages out of the book Choose to do Right: a Proven Path to Criminal Rehabilitation.  This could be interpreted one of two ways:

1. This book is so full of amazing information that the patron simply HAD to keep the pages so they wouldn't forget what they learned.

2. This book does not work, because the patron reading it chose to destroy state property and steal the pages and not consider how it would affect anyone else.

Personally, I hope it is option number one. I used to take library theft really personally and it would make me very angry, but now my thoughts trend towards "Well, at least if it is stolen it is being read somewhere" which is much better than having something sit on the shelf not circulating.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Things You Wonder About That You Never Wondered About Before Becoming a Prison Librarian

The weather is turning nicer and the State Patrol will soon be putting out the "Look twice, save a life" motorcycle PSA's. With spring comes the reemergence of our previously mentioned group from the Things You Never Noticed Before Going to Prison post- Motorcycle Gangs.  With this changing of the seasons, I begin to wonder where the motorcycle gangs went during the winter. Did they ride on south to a warmer climate? Did they hibernate in their man cave? Did they hop in their Prius to go to Home Depot for some Christmas lights? This is one of the Mysteries We May Never Know, that you would never have even known you didn't know if you weren't in prison.......

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quotable Quotes, Episode 3

Patron: "Yeah, who was that guy who wrote the poem?"
Me: "Hmm, can you tell me more?"
Patron: "Yeah, it goes 'Four score and seven years ago...'"


Patron: "So, for lack of a better term, you're the Queen Librarian right?"


Staff overheard on the radio: "I need all available responders...there is an offender with a stick........and she is swinging the stick....DO NOT GO IN THERE!"


Patron: "You STILL don't have Muscle & Fitness yet?!?!  I'm starting to atrophy!!!"


New patron, first day at the library: "This place has so many books!!!!  This is the best day of my LIFE!!!!"

Monday, March 10, 2014

They just really want their books!

The other day I was doing deliveries in the Segregation Unit and I heard a high pitched yelling from the other side of the unit:

"Bring me my books biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!!!!!!!  Bring me my books biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!!!!!!  Bring me my books biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!"

Now normally I don't make any acknowledgement of such bad behavior, but it was so unexpected and ridiculous that I looked at the officer who was escorting me and just started laughing.  "Seriously?" I said to her.  "Yeah, they are all mean to your back but they will be all nice to your face," she replied.  I guess this wasn't her first interaction with that guy that day, but she is right in that they really just want attention. Unfortunately, I didn't have books for him anyway, so I didn't even go over to that side because I figured to talk to him when I had no books would be playing into his game.  What I would have said though, had I had something for him, would have been "Not with that attitude!"

Sometimes when you are working in a prison library, you deal with people who are losing it because they are locked down 23 hours a day.  Don't take it personally if you get called a bitch, or any other colorful name.  On a similar note, if that kind of stuff really offends you, or you have a sensitive personality, a different type of library might be up your alley.

On a happy book delivery note though, I was taking unit books to the people who have no library access the other day.  I didn't have enough to leave more than one box per unit, but the offenders in every pod I went in greeted me with "OHMYGODTHEBOOKLADYISHEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!" and "Thank you so much for the books!" and "You are bringing more books?!?!?  You are like a GOD in here!"  And as I was walking back I decided that one way to bring joy back into my day is to take unit books to those guys because even though it is just something small, it brightened up their day and gave them something to combat the inherent boredom that is prison life.  Sometimes it's the little things.