This post idea came to me while I was driving home the other day, and I envisioned it as a "Liberry Lady's Top 10 Reasons You Know You Have Been in Prison Too Long" but I initially dismissed the idea because I thought, no way I could come up with 10. Well, I started thinking about it and writing them down and I actually came up with 14 haha. My colleagues who are in prison currently or recently will know what I'm talking about and for my future prison librarians-here's what you have to look forward to. :-)
Signs You've Been in Prison For a REALLY Long Time:
1. The last ten books you've read cover-to-cover all feature prominent nudity and/or gratuitous sexual material because you are checking for policy violations. Then you really think about it and realize you haven't read a book for fun in months.
Comment: The policy against sexually explicit material to protect staff from having to work in an environment where they might be "uncomfortable" really just means that a few select staff will have to look at much more sexually explicit material. I guess it's ok- I'll take one for the team to protect the freedom to read, and it really doesn't bother me anymore because I can see the humor in it. My favorite one lately was a photograph someone sent in (to a male offender haha) and all the Mail Room put on the rejection form was "Naked Man Penis." Well, I flipped the picture over and yes, that was a very accurate description because all that was in the picture was a dude passed out on a motel bed with his dong hanging all over. If you are someone who is sensitive to nudity, or easily embarrassed, possibly prison is not for you, and that is completely ok because that is completely normal! A lot of people do not like to look at pictures of random naked people, and I only do it because I get paid a ridiculous amount of money.
2. You have reached the point where you can not only think in the jargon of the administration, you are now able to make winning arguments about why certain changes are beneficial for your library.
Comment: I highly recommend learning everything you can about what makes the administration tick before you enter prison like a bull in a china shop trying to change everything. If you can craft your arguments in terms that your chain of command can understand, you will be so much more likely to get what you want. In fact, that is good practice for any job you have, be it in prison or not. First, seek to understand the culture, and then try to make changes. Change is hard for people, and if you don't do it right you will meet with nothing but resistance. It is also a great idea in prison to learn the rules and policies front and back so you can make sure your changes and ideas are within policy. If your changes are more along rogue lines, it will be harder to gain allies and you might end up alienating your library when it is extremely beneficial in prison to be seen as a team-player, while still protecting intellectual freedom and library privacy.
3. You have lost the art of conversation because you have had it drilled into your head that you must always maintain a "Culture of Silence" when interacting with people in prison.
Comment: I definitely noticed this change in my personality during the middle years of my career. Prison changes people. When I started, I was so worried about establishing my boundaries and not befriending anyone on the advice of Basic Training staff that I stopped talking to anyone anywhere. I didn't want to be viewed as someone who was too friendly with offenders so I was not friendly to anyone. Thankfully, I have finally righted my pendulum and now have a happy medium where I can have good rapport with offenders while still maintaining my boundaries as their supervisor. I definitely suggest being mindful of this in your home life as well. Corrections is a career with higher than normal divorce rates (interesting article from Corrections.com here) and a lot of that is because spouses don't know what it's like to be in corrections, and the staff member doesn't know how to talk about it in a constructive way. Corrections is tough and stressful, even if you are "just a librarian" and not an officer. Frequently, we are the librarian AND the officer in the library because we work alone with no back-up and are mainly surrounded by offenders the majority of our day. If you feel like you are losing your sense of self, please, please don't let it get so bad to where it causes friction in your relationship and home life. There is help out there, and many DOC's offer some sort of employee assistance program. There's no shame in seeking help redirecting your perspective, and things will get better eventually if you just ask for help.
4. You feel weird when people touch you, even if it's just the cashier handing you your change and receipt.
Comment: In my prison, there is a strict "no-touching" rule. You are trained to hand people stuff so your fingers don't touch, because some offenders could take that as an invitation to start compromising you. It seems extreme, but when you are new in prison it is very important, as mentioned earlier, to set your boundaries. Nowadays if someone accidentally touches me as I am handing them stuff it doesn't cause me as much stress as it used to, but I am definitely still mindful of that contact because I don't want it to be interpreted as more than it is. Now, there are some staff who regularly shake offenders' hands, or clasp them on the shoulder, and that is not necessarily a sign that any shenanigans are happening but for me personally I just prefer no touching at all.
Stay tuned for Part II, coming to a prison library blog near you!