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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Prison Urban Legends, Episode 1

Sometimes there are stories that float around prison and while their origins are shady, EVERYONE knows them and swears up and down that they are true.  I heard this one the other day and I finally have an answer as to why so many of my books go missing when people parole.  But I take solace in the fact that at least somewhere out there, someone is reading them. :-)

Apparently, when you are in prison it is SUPER BAD LUCK to leave a book unfinished.  If you are in the middle of 12th of Never by James Patterson and the graveyard staff come in the middle of the night to pack you out because you're free now* and you have 20 pages left but they won't let you finish reading it, you are screwed and Karma will bring you back to prison just so you can finish reading that book.  Now, according to one of my clerks, if you read the last page and then throw the book with all your might against the wall you will be ok.  However, a second clerk debunked the first one by saying "That does NOT work, I tried it and look where I am, back where I started!"

However, I know one FOOLPROOF way to keep from coming back to prison, regardless of if you finished your book or not.  Change your behaviors and don't break the law.  It will work every time, I promise.

*Librarian Mythbusting Note: Most people are released in the morning, and they have PLENTY of notice to finish their books.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Staying healthy in prison, Part 2

So I was talking to one of my fellow librarians about my clerk having Whooping Cough and she asked if I had gotten the updated vaccine, to which I replied, "I got the one when I was little.  That's updated enough!" Well, turns out it is not and that's why she's my friend--brilliant! :-)  So I have decided to post a list of important vaccines for prison librarians as well as reasons why:

1. Whooping cough.  Because you never know when your clerks will come down with it because their moms were anti-vaccine.

2. Tetanus.  Remember the post about how librarians are expected to participate in facility shakedowns?  Well, if you are lucky enough to find the rusty shank, but unlucky enough to find it WITH YOUR UNGLOVED HAND THAT IS NOW BLEEDING, you will probably want to not get tetanus because I hear it is nasty.

3. Hepatitis.  A, B, C, D, H, I, J, Z......any Hepatitis you can get vaccinated for, you should.  Really, you can only get vaccinated for Hep A and B and there are only 5 types, but that is NOT something you want to contract, so get vaccinated.

4.  Chicken Pox.  I got it when I was in kindergarten, but it seems like kids nowadays just get the vaccine and never have to deal with the itchy spots.  If you are in that generation where you never got chicken pox in school, and never got around to getting vaccinated, probably should just do it because you never know with kids nowadays.

5.  Influenza.  Now, personally, every time I get the flu shot, I get so sick, so I never get one and I never get sick.  BUT, my immune system is a champ so you should probably get it unless you know that yours is a champ as well (i.e. you haven't taken a sick day in 15 months.)

And remember the Prison Golden Rule: If it's wet and it's not yours, DON'T TOUCH IT.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Staying healthy in prison

Prison is full of germs. There's just no way around it when you have 900 staff and offenders crammed in a space the size of a small commune. People get all sorts of crazy diseases besides the general ones you associate with sharing things like dirty needles. I got mono one time and was out for two weeks! All the clerks were sure that I had died haha. Just today one of the clerks said they had Whooping Cough. Yikes!
So, what is a prison librarian to do to stay healthy in a germ-filled environment? Well, first of all, I say some germs are good for you because it strengthens your immune system so there's no need to go crazy with hand sanitizer and Virex. Just follow these simple tips to stay healthy in prison:
1. Work out and eat healthy. This is important no matter where you work and you will feel so much better.
2. Don't let anyone use your pen. You don't know where their hands have been AND you probably won't ever get it back if you let it out of your sight.
3. Wash your hands prior to eating lunch and after handling library books. Books are dirty. You don't want to eat that.
4. Take sick time when you are sick, but try and keep a week or two in the bank justincase you come down with something really nasty. There's nothing worse than needing to take sick time and not getting paid or having to use your vacation time.
5. Drink lots of water. Hydration flushes out germs.
6. No touching in prison. This rule is helpful for so many situations!
7. Don't have sex with offenders. See rule #6.
During your first year or so you will probably be more sick than you will be after that. This is because your body is getting used to the new germ situation. But stick it out, take vitamin C and you should be feeling fine in no time.

Monday, March 3, 2014

So you want to be a prison librarian-tips for getting hired

Greetings, loyal readers and potential prison librarians!  Happy 2014!  This post today is dedicated to all the job seekers who are interested in actually working in a prison library.  I am going to give you some helpful tips and pointers for your interview that you can use if you are being considered for a prison library position.

1. Pay close attention to the geographic requirements of the job.  Most prisons are in rural areas, which is good for cost of living, bad for your social life.  First, consider if you really want to work 2+ hours away from the nearest metropolitan area.  Second, if you are already in a rural area and lucky enough to get an interview for an urban prison librarian position, please do research on housing availability and prices BEFORE the interview.  If you decide that you don't want to/can't afford to live in a place AFTER you have rocked the interview and gotten everyone all excited, that will be disappointing for everyone involved.

2. If you get an interview-BRING A RESUME.  Better yet, bring three copies of your resume.  Never assume I know who you are.  My HR department does not give me ANY background info on the people I am interviewing.  The more materials you have to leave for me, the better and longer-lasting impression you will make.

3. I do not want your 6 page CV that details every little thing you have ever done in your entire life.  Keep it to two pages MAX and I want everything in it related to the position at hand.  If you have no prison experience, that is ok.  Detail how the experience you DO have will benefit my library.

4. When asked the million dollar question, "So.  Why are you interested in working in a prison library?" DO NOT say "Well, I am really not, it is just something I applied for."  When I have six candidates, and two say "I am really interested in correctional librarianship because......" and the other four are just there because they are trying to find a job, any job, I am going to pick the ones who want to be there.  Prison is hard, and if you are just looking for a job, any job, my suggestion is to also apply at a book store.

5. Do some research about the prison at which you are applying.  (You should really research any place to which you are applying.)  If you can't find anything about the prison in particular, read some books about correctional librarianship.  You know that part in the job advertisement where it says "For questions, contact________"?  It is ok to call them and talk about the position.  Ask intelligent questions like, "What is the culture of your institution?" and "What personality types would fit best in this position?"  That way you can a.) pre-screen the position to see if you would be a good fit and b.) ask even more intelligent questions in the interview because you already have some background about the place.  The National Institute of Corrections  is a phenomenal resource to learn about the trends in corrections that are mirrored in correctional librarianship.  Trauma-Informed Approaches?  Yep, we are trending towards that.  Gender-Informed Practice?  Yes, we are changing our culture to reflect that too.  If anyone knew about those buzz words during an interview with me, they would score at least 10 extra credit points, even if they have no library experience beyond the minimum qualifications.

6. The background check.  You will be subjected to a background check and drug test prior to your employment in a prison library.  I had one applicant who was PHENOMENAL.  This person had all the right qualities for the position.  Unfortunately, they did not pass the background check.  If there is anything in your past or present that might preclude you from working here, just be advised that they dig up EVERYTHING.  So be honest, and if there is anything questionable just know that even though you might be the perfect person for the job, if you can't jump through the hoops, you will not be eligible for hire.  

In conclusion, dear readers, a final word of wisdom: Even if you don't get that job, it doesn't mean you are a bad person or a bad librarian.  It just means that you weren't right for the position at that moment.  So if prison libraries are something you are passionate about, think about what I said, re-tool your resume and interview skills, dust yourself off and try again.  Until next time!