Friday, September 12, 2014

My Sentiments Exactly

A sign (tooth)pasted to one of the United book shelves the other day:

"Please don't be a scumbag

punk by tearing up

all the books...


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

Today the Mail Room messaged me and asked if I was expecting an offender's mom to be sending us one of our books back called Will I Ever be Good Enough?  Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. I remembered charging the offender for it a while back so I said I would take it and went down to get it, expecting some sort of apology on behalf of the offender when the mother realized that her daughter had stolen the book.

When I got the package back to the library, I noticed the mailing label was weird, and was actually an envelope addressed to her daughter rather than the library.  I cut it off the package and inside was a whole long letter yelling at the daughter about how she needs to get her s*** together and she (the mom) is not going to buy her $50 worth of food because her daughter is not going to be in prison that long, and then it ended with: "And here's the book you probably owe the library for...stop blaming everyone else for your problems. Love, Mom."

It's ironic on so many levels, and always interesting to get a glimpse into the outside lives of our patrons. 

Until next time!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Liberry Lady and the Case of the Missing Chit

Good evening, dear readers!

Have you ever felt that everyone around you at work has lost their everloving minds?  No?  Well then you my friend are either unemployed or very lucky haha.  For the rest of us, here is a story that will make you *facepalm* all the way through your head.

On Thursday I was leaving work and turning in all of my equipment, happy to be on my merry way on a fine Friday Eve, but little did I know that was not to be.  Now, a little background before we get into the meat of this story for those of you who have not yet worked in a prison.  When one becomes a prison employee, one is issued a variety of casino-chip like metal circles called "chits."  These chits are made of metal but are sometimes rectangle-shaped, so maybe not everyone feels like they have won the slot machine when they turn in their equipment at the end of the day, I don't know, I guess it just depends on who makes them for you.

Anyway, I have pretty good attention to detail being a librarian, and I also had it ground into my brain in BT that you NEVER EVER EVER UNDER THE PENALTY OF SERIOUS BODILY INJURY forget or lose your chits.  We were made to believe that, should one forget to bring their chits to work one day, or misplace a chit, tons of terrible things would happen, not the least of which would be the inability to get your necessary equipment that day.  Needless to say, I am very protective of my two golden and one red chit and I was proud of the fact that I worked in prison for 5 years and 4 months and still had my original issue chits.

When I opened up the trap door to receive my chits that I had exchanged for my keys, radio, and OC, I was dismayed to see that the red one just looked...different.  It was much shinier than I was used to, and when I turned it over to examine the engraved name on the front I was shocked to see a name that wasn't mine.

"Excuse me," I said to Master Control staff, "but this is not my chit."  They came to the window and I gave it back to them because sometimes it happens where they just accidentally grab the wrong one.  However, upon further examination of the OC holder bin, it was discovered that my chit WAS NOT THERE AT ALL.  After a terse exchange with the Sergeant, it was determined that I should hold the incorrect chit "hostage" because some staff member (Day Shift, according to Swing Shift, naturally, because they all hate each other) gave this person my chit and the person with my chit clearly does not have as good of attention to detail as me so they didn't wonder why their formerly shiny red OC chit was suddenly beat up and not nearly as gleaming.  Of course, this person had Friday/Saturday as their weekend so there was going to be no solution to this problem until Monday.

Well fast-forward to today and whadoyaknow but my chit was still MIA.  I headed up to the library with a radio and keys and a fervent hope that today would not be the day where shenanigans went down in the library and I would need to issue my first burst of OC to a misbehaving offender.  I opened my email to find a response to my request that the person with my chit please bring it to the library on Monday that said they had given it to Master Control yesterday.  Ok, fine, I thought, I will call them back and let them know that it should be there.  Unfortunately, Master Control staff still had no idea where my wayward chit had gone, (because Swing Shift re-lost it, according to Day Shift, naturally, because they all hate each other) so I was still out of luck.  AND, not only did I not have MY chit, this staff member was "unable to leave the kitchen due to his responsibility of monitoring offenders" so I had to go out of MY way to give him back HIS chit.  *sigh*  People...

Now, future prison librarians, when equipment is lost or broken, a report must be written before anything can be fixed or replaced.  So I wrote my report and made sure to make it clear that this was everyone's fault but mine, and got a response from the locksmith that I was, as always, perfect and would have a new chit by tomorrow.  As I was leaving today and grumbling to the lobby officer that people really need to pay attention to things when they work in prison, he made an optimistic guess that it would turn up as soon as I got my new one.  This gave me pause and shifted my perspective because as soon as he said that I realized that this seeming inconvenience might actually turn into a windfall of OC chits which would mean that instead of just one can of OC, I could potentially have TWO--ONE ON EACH HIP!  Ha, take THAT, potential shenanigizers!  

Until next time!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On the Issue of Personal Hygiene

Greetings, loyal readers! It's your friendly neighborhood prison librarian back with an important PSA about personal hygiene in prison and where it is and is not ok to take care of your personal needs with regard to your cleanliness.

Yesterday I was looking something up in the office on my computer and one of the clerks came to the door and said, "Um. I don't want to be a tattle tale but there is a girl listening to music and clipping her nails out there and it is grossing me out." Since I am the Voice of Reason, I immediately went out and tapped on the table to get the attention of the perpetrator. Apparently she was very engrossed in what she was doing because I had to rap my knuckles not once or twice but THRICE before she acknowledged I was there.

With a heavy sigh she looked up at me and removed one headphone from her ear to her forehead and said annoyedly, "Yes?"

"I need to talk to you in the hallway please," I told her because if you remember from previous posts, one of the cardinal rules of prison librarianship is Don't Confront People About Things When They Have an Audience.

She spent a good 30 seconds wiping the nail clippings from her pants into her hand (at least it wasn't to the floor) and then she followed me out to the hallway where I informed her that nail clippers are not allowed in the library and doing personal hygiene is frowned upon in that setting and then I gave her the option to stay and I would send the nails clippers to Property or she could go back to her unit and lose the rest of her library time. Due to the fact that one has to work at least 3 days on prison pay to afford nail clippers, she elected to do the latter and returned to her unit, surprisingly with no attitude. Because she was compliant, I just gave her a verbal warning which should be enough to keep her from doing it again.

Now, on the positive side, I am glad that patrons feel so comfortable in the library, but whether you are clipping nails, threading eyebrows, or popping zits, there are just some places you don't do certain things and the library is one of them.

Until next time!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Changes in Prison

In an environment that thrives on consistency and repetition, anything out of the ordinary is bound to send shock waves throughout the entire system. A few years ago I dyed my hair brown and you would have thought I did something way more terrible from the reactions I got. EVERYONE hated it and felt like it was their job to tell me so, but I just laughed it off because a.) I didn't do it for them, b.) I liked it and that's all that matters and c.) I'm not there to impress anyone. But what was really hilarious is that my boss at the time also had brown hair and people used to say "Oh, the blonde librarian told us that/said we could do that" and after neither of us was the blonde one they became very consternated.

So, fast forward to the present day and a little background: every day at work I wear my work outfit. It is the same every day, down to my items on my belt (radio, keys, pepper spray) and my car key that I hang from my belt loop with a carabeaner (spelling?) so I never lose it because if you read this blog you know how stressful it is to even THINK about losing keys in prison. So, I thought for sure the first day I had my brand new key of my shiny new car on my belt loop, SURELY I would have to fend off multiple comments about my new key. But so far, nothing. Not one single comment or sideways glance while they try and estimate if they will get in trouble for asking. Veritable. Crickets.

So what does this mean? Well my theories are that because I have some other minor keys on the ring, everyone just looks at those and assumes it's key business as usual. It could also be that they are so busy with their own other life drama that they have no time for changes in the library at the moment. My final idea, and this is the one I would like it to be, is that I have finally, after five long years, gotten to the point where they know my answer will be "I don't talk about my personal life at work" and they respect me enough to not even try and bring it up. It's unlikely that that's the reason, but one can always hope.

Until next time!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When death happens in prison

Hello, dear readers.

Tonight's post is not going to be the happiest, because the topic of death is usually a sad one.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the environment, it is a topic that you as the prison librarian will most likely be confronted with at some point in your career, at least once if not multiple times.

During my tenure, we have lost an extremely important figure in our administration as well as one of our colleagues to murder at the hands of offenders.  We have also lost many offenders at the hands of other offenders, and also at the hands of themselves.  Suicide is prevalent in prison (especially around year five we are taught in training, because that is when the feelings of helplessness can manifest and someone who seemingly was adapting can suddenly have a U-turn) and affects not only the families of the person, but the staff who discover the situation and everyone who knew the person.  In our system we have a specially trained team of people who go in and are available whenever there is a crisis so that staff can have someone to talk to when they have been traumatized by such an event.

When a death happens in prison, the usual protocol is to lock down for an undetermined period of time so that the investigation can take place.  If it is a case of someone passing away due to old age, their roommate will initially be removed from population, but the rest of the facility usually won't be affected.  One time, Minion #1 accidentally took someone's ID home in his pocket and that patron DIED THAT EVENING.  (We have made sure that he is absolutely not ever allowed to take anyone's ID home ever again even though she was extremely elderly and it probably had nothing to do with it, justincase........)

As prison librarians, we are constantly surrounded by people who have done things that are terrible.  It is extremely important to always remember that when you are in among the patrons and to never put yourself in a situation where you could potentially be the next prison casualty.  In our library, this means never being alone around offenders (even though that is the library rule, and not the prison rule), never letting anyone in the library unauthorized, and always thinking about "If this happened then what would I do?"  If someone came at me with a shank, what door could I run out of?  If someone tackled me, how would I fight back and alert people that I needed help?  If someone stabbed me while I was bending down to get a book for them on the bottom shelf, well then at least I will die doing what I love, but to avoid that, tell the patron where the book is located on the bottom shelf and make them get it.

I don't know if all DOC's across the nation require some sort of self-defense training, but I hope they do.  If you ever find yourself with a prison librarian job where that is NOT required, please seriously consider pursuing that training on your own.  At my facility, we have to re-qualify in that every year, and in addition to that training I carry a radio and pepper spray.  In my five years on the inside, I have never been in a situation where my life has been threatened, but I still have an escape plan, because you never know.

Now, I didn't post this to scare you.  On the contrary, if you read this and you are still feeling called to help this population, then you are a brave and amazing individual.  And if you read this and think, "I didn't realize that about prison.  Maybe it's not the place for me..." that's ok too, because prison is a dangerous place.  I use my sense of humor as a coping mechanism, because if you can't laugh about it sometimes all you will do is cry, and to paraphrase Min-tern, nobody wants to hire someone who is crying all over the offenders.  But, in the cycle of life there is death, and the microcosm of the prison society definitely magnifies it more than you would find in other types of libraries.

Until next time.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Prison Laugh o' the Day: Inappropriate Album Titles

I was going to do a long post about more hiring tips tonight but I'm tired so here's a short funny story to tide you over:

Patron: "Do you have black panties in the back?"
Me: O_o

*remembers it's the album for a CD we have on Inter-Library Loan*
Me: "Oh yes, I believe we still do have that R. Kelly CD. I'll be right back..."