Sunday, July 7, 2013

On the issue of Constitutional rights in prison

The other day a patron came up to me in the library and asked if I could help her find a copy of the constitution.  Since our most accessible copy is in the volume of the encyclopedia that is currently under review, I preformed a reference interview on her to see if there was another way I could meet her information need while she was in the library.

Me: "So, what is it about the Constitution that you are interested in?"
Patron: "I wanna know what my RIGHTS are!"
Me: "Ok, any rights in particular?"
Patron: "No, I want to know ALL of them!"
Me: *because this is usually the only thing that makes them interested in the Constitution* "Hmm, is it because you think those rights are being violated?"
Patron: "Yup!"
Me: "By someone in here?"
Patron: "Yup!"
Me: "A staff member, or a fellow offender?"
Patron: "Everyone!!!"

I ended up directing her to the computer where we keep all the prison rules and showing her the index so she could look up the rules that would apply to her specific situation, and then when I followed up with her later that hour I asked her if she found everything she was looking for, to which she replied, "Yeah I did, and then some, thank you so much!"

Now, I love helping people find information, and I know that I banked some professional collateral with this patron because I didn't just tell her to suck it up with the alleged poor treatment because she's in prison like many people do.  BUT, it is hard for me sometimes because what I really want to do is lecture her on a.) why are you waiting until now to learn what your rights are and b.) why don't we have a talk about what some of your RESPONSIBILITIES are before we get into how everybody done you wrong.

The sense of entitlement in prison is astronomical.  Everybody cries foul when they feel like their rights are being violated, or like they are not being treated fairly, but given the opportunity they will walk all over someone else's rights if they think it would benefit them.  So, potential prison librarian, keep that in mind when you are working with your patron population on the inside.  Treat everyone with respect and sometimes it will be returned and bank your professional collateral so if you ever need it, you will have patrons standing guard at the library door to instruct the riot to burn elsewhere.  But don't ever think that if your back is turned, they won't take that opportunity to steal the dream book off the reference shelf and leave it in the offender bathroom.

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