Thursday, April 19, 2012

The two golden rules of prison

Perhaps I have been remiss in not posting this sooner, because the following tidbits are quintessential to success as a prison librarian. Follow these rules and you will never go wrong. The two things that you absolutely must remember are:

1.Don't have sex with offenders.
2. If it's wet and it's not yours, DON'T TOUCH IT

They don't need much explaining, and if you disagree with them you may not be prison librarian material. Until next time!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hey! Stop touching her!

In prison, one of the first things you learn as a staff member is that there is absolutely no touching allowed. This includes high-fives, shoulder-to-shoulder joint reading of a magazine, holding hands while listening to music, and getting freaky in the stacks. (While I personally have never had to deal with the last one, there are many prison librarians that have. So if that weirds you out, you may want to consider a different line of work. Although I hear that public library patrons sometimes watch porn on the public computers so pick your poison I guess. And kids are sexting all over the place now so even school libraries are not sex-free zones.) The reason for this rule is because there are a lot of sexual predators in prison (imagine that) and sometimes the women who are being touched are not willing girlfriends but victims. The whole saying "There is no consensual sex in prison" is true, and if anyone is caught having sex in prison they may have to register as a sex offender, even if they were just there on some minor drug charges.

The whole no touching rule has been so ingrained in my psyche that I now have a hard time keeping myself from telling people to stop touching when I am in a public place. And if someone touches me, like by brushing my fingers when they are handing me my receipt at the store, it takes a lot of will power to keep myself from saying "Hey, that's not appropriate."

My favorite no touching story from my three years inside is when I saw two women holding hands while they were listening to music. I took them out in the hall (*note to potential prison librarians-it is always a good idea to take confrontations out into the hallway and away from a possible audience) and asked why they were holding hands. The answer? "She is going to be doing my nails later today!" Not on my watch ladies! What happened instead? Their library time got cut short, and they had to go to the clinic for an anatomical exam and they were seperated by pods in their unit, never to have library time together again! Muahahahahahaha!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why being a bartender should be a prerequisite for prison librarianship

Greetings Readers! As you may remember from my previous post, I was once a member of the Illustrious Brotherhood of Bartenders. Being a bartender was one of my favorite jobs of all time because I worked with a great group of people and it was nice to have cash all the time. However, I paid $60,000 for my education and as fun as it was, I a.)needed more money to pay off my ridiculous student loans and b.) actually wanted to work in my field as a librarian or archivist. So, when the opportunity to actually be a librarian came up, you can imagine why I switched jobs. That being said, I am SO GLAD that I had the experience bartending before I got to prison. Because there are so many benefits to working as a bartender before going to prison, I have made a list for your reading pleasure:

Why Everyone Who Wants to be a Prison Librarian Should be a Bartender First

1. When you work as a bartender, you get used to everyone looking at you all the time. In prison, everyone is also looking at you all the time. If you are shy and don't like people looking at you ALL THE TIME, you should probably consider a different career path.

2. When you are a bartender, everyone wants to make conversation with you. This is good because by being a good conversationalist you can make better tips. In prison, everyone also wants to make conversation with you, and you can use your skills gained from deflecting inappropriate comments from drunk patrons to deflect questions you don't want to answer from offender patrons. However, one thing to note--in prison you actually have to tell people they are being inappropriate because subtlety often doesn't work with them and also because you don't want them to think that if they keep asking you eventually will answer their questions. But the key is to tell them tactfully yet firmly, much like with a drunken customer who thinks that because you are a bartender that you are available for whatever customer services they want.

3. Bartending requires confidence. Prison librarianship requires confidence as well. If you are not confident in what you are doing, you will get eaten alive. These are both professions where you REALLY need to "Fake it until you make it."

4. Multi-tasking is a must when you are working a crazy busy bar on a Friday night. Nobody likes a bartender who makes one drink at a time. You need to be able to make six drinks while you close out a tab and order another couple's food and make change for the servers and open another bottle of wine because the last one only had half a glass in it. In a prison library, you need to be able to answer a reader's advisory question while you are getting an interlibrary loan CD from the office while you are checking on the status of someone else's interlibrary loan while you are getting the library clerks some projects to work on while you are making sure that those two girls in the corner aren't touching while you are also making sure that the 10,000 Dreams Interpreted that is supposed to stay on the Reference shelf doesn't walk out of the library in someone's pants. See what I mean? And that is me on a slow day.

5. Customer service. Before I got to prison, I thought that everyone should spend some time working in a restaurant so that they can have some empathy for restaurant workers. Now that I have been in prison, I still think that. But, while having good customer service skills will help you in any profession, it is especially helpful in prison when dealing with both offenders and staff. If you are always polite, smile at everyone, do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it, and treat everyone with kindness and respect you will not get shanked. Prison library patrons can really try your nerves, especially when you are new to them and they are still trying to figure you out. But if you always use your customer service skills and heap coals of fire on their head by being polite when they are screaming in your face they will change their attitudes and behave. And if they refuse to behave, you can have them escorted out just like you can if your bar has a bouncer.

6. "I don't know, but I will look it up for you!" While many associate this phrase with librarians, I actually learned it bartending, because what do you do when you have no idea what goes into an Alabama Slammer? You look it up in your bartender recipe guide! What do you do when you don't know what AR says offenders are not allowed to have mohawks? You look it up in your AR guide!

If you have these bartender skills, then good for you-you are halfway ready to be a prison librarian. If you don't, then I highly recommend getting a part time bartending job while you are putting yourself through library school. The skills you will learn as a bartender will not only benefit you in the professional world, you will also become one of your friends' favorite people because now you will know how to make all the cool drinks. :-)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome to prison! Let the fun begin!

Greetings, dear readers, it's your friendly neighboorhood prison librarian! I am starting this blog in response to the multitude of requests for information I've seen over the past three years about what it's like to be a prison librarian. This blog will tell you everything you need to know, and I hope that it will be useful to those thinking about going into the Red-Headed Step-Child subset of special libraries.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about me and my backround and why I am qualified to speak on this topic. I fell into prison libraries completely by accident, and also by Recession. I had a great job in archives, but alas, it was a grant-funded position and when the grant ended we were done with the work so there was no need to renew it, and *bam* we were all unemployed. My HB and I decided to move back to our favorite state, and one of my fellow librarian friends said "Hey, they are hiring in prison! You should apply!" Because it was either that or bartend for the rest of my life (don't get me wrong, bartending is awesome, but when you have a Master's Degree, you want to work in your field) I decided to give it a go. This was in November. Finally, six months later I was starting Basic Training. Lesson #1-bureaucracy is not fast.

Now I have been in prison for three years, and have seen many things I never dreamed I would ever see. When people ask me how I like working in prison, my two pat answers depending on my mood are "It's the most interesting job I've ever had." and "I miss the days when I didn't know what went on behind prison walls." A prison is like a mini-city with some crazy twists on what you would find on the outside. For example, we have a post office, and the post officers are allowed, nay, mandated, to open offender mail and read it. We have a library that on the one hand wants people to have the freedom to read and intellectual freedom, yet we have to censor materials that could be construed as security threats and pornography. We have a cosmetology department, but even those teachers are expected to heed the call of duty and shake down the facility to look for drugs and weapons. We have cops, but they do not carry firearms. The more popular you are behind bars, the worse it is because it probably means that you are doing things for the offenders that you are not supposed to be doing. I always tell people "It's ok, I'm used to being the one that nobody likes" because I always make people follow the rules.

So, it's going to be a fun ride. I hope you enjoy this blog. I have lots of funny and crazy stories that I will be sharing, so make sure you follow me. If I can help even one person with their career decision to either go to prison or stay out of prison then I will be happy. Until next time!