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..."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Prison Laugh o' the Day

A clerk asked me if she could go get her canteen after work. Because I don't like to just send people places without verifying that it's ok, I tried to get a hold of Canteen staff on the phone. When they didn't answer I tried the radio and it went like this:
Me: "Any Canteen staff. Library."
*No answer*
Me: "Any Canteen staff. Library."
Staff: "Go for Unit 2."
Me: *thinking maybe Canteen staff are in Unit 2* "Is Canteen there?"
Staff: "Please call 3725."
Me: *calls*
Staff: "Unit 2."
Me: "Hi! It's me in the Library! Is Canteen there?"
Staff: "No...."
Me: "Um, ok. Bye then."
Surely they were pranking me? Who knows haha.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tips on how to make polite conversation about prison

November must have been a busy month because I have many friends with birthdays in July and August.  At these birthday parties lately, I have been meeting a lot of people I don't know, and the number one polite conversation starter is "So. What do you do?" I used to answer this query with "I'm a librarian" hoping that my companion would then fall for my topic change when I asked them what they did, but EVERYONE loves librarians so naturally they will want to know where you work. That, or one of your friends who is already in the know will gleefully cajole you to "Tell them WHERE!"
So tonight I present to you some helpful tips to make small talk with people you don't know about a topic that can be as controversial as religion and politics. Enjoy:
1. Just lead with the fact that you are a prison librarian. Even if the person you are talking to could have been or probably will be your patron at some point in time, like I said, everyone loves the Librarian so you most likely won't get punched in the face.
2. Have some witty anecdotes about prison life that are not too hardcore because after people hear what you do for a living the next question-statement will be "I bet you have some crazy stories!" And then they will want to hear some of them. This used to give me anxiety because it's like when you go to the bookstore knowing exactly what titles you want but the moment you get in there you completely forget all of them, but now I have some good go-tos like "I have to pass through 7 doors I can't control to get to work!" And "One time a dog peed on a whole row of books but it was ok because we had to weed them anyway."
3. Realize that if you are telling a hardcore prison anecdote, not everyone is going to want to hear it. At a conference some of my colleagues and I were talking about slock (weapon made from inserting a lock in a sock and smacking someone with it) assaults and some other non-prison librarians made a disgusted comment about how prison librarians are so hard to be around as they removed themselves from our table. So just be advised that what is a normal day for you might be too much for someone else to hear about.
4. Know what your patrons like to read. People who have no idea what goes on inside prison are always intrigued by what offenders are reading and they are surprised to hear their reading interests are the same as public library patrons.
5. Remember to tell them that 97% of your patrons will be getting out sometime, and impart that the prison library helps them to be better neighbors to everyone. It really helps bring the point home that not everyone in prison is locked up with the key thrown away. It helps to have some feel-good stories here as well.
6. Have a business card. I have found that in 98% of my conversations about what I do, people want to help by donating books. It is way more professional to say "Let me give you my card" than "Um, I guess I can write the address down on this bar napkin/airline ticket holder/your hand." My supervisor approved my business cards to be purchased using my library budget, but if yours is not as accommodating you can get some from the internet for very cheap.
7. Read Orange is the New Black, or watch a couple episodes on Netflix. I have noticed since that show appeared, many people have seen it and want to know how close it is to real life. You should watch or read it to have an educated opinion whether or not you agree with it. I am saving my thoughts on that topic for another blog.
Well, future prison librarians, I hope this list helps you as you become the hit of the cocktail party circuit with your Interesting job and witty conversation skills! Until next time!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Musings on the idea of time

Time is a funny thing in prison.  Today I was coming back from doing deliveries with Minion #2 and I saw a patron who had come into prison with pink hair that had blond roots. Since pink hair dye is not allowed in prison, I knew when I saw her that her hair growth would be a good indicator of how much time has passed since she got there. When I first met her, I thought her natural hair was blond but today I noticed that it's actually dark brown, creating a nice neapolitan effect.

Another way I measure time in prison is the handwriting on the forms we have to keep for a year. Once my old supervisor's handwriting disappeared from the pile, I knew it had been a long time since she worked there.

I have a great southern view from my library windows so the color of the leaves is another good reminder that time marches on. Fall is really pretty with all the colors in the trees. Winter is a frosty wonderland when it snows, and a brown wasteland in between the "winter surprises." Spring's renewal reminds us that nothing bleak is permanent and summer where we are now makes me long to be outside playing.

When you get your first job in prison, future prison librarians, you will frequently hear patrons say, "Wellllll it's been about a minute..." when you ask them how long it's been since they've put in their interlibrary loan request. A minute in prison can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. We always have to clarify if they are talking in terms of prison time.

Until next time! (I will try and make it less than a minute haha.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Funny Anecdote About Being in Prison too Long

Greetings, loyal readers!  You may remember my last month's series of posts about ways you know you have been in prison too long.  This story actually happened way before I thought up that list, but it is a good illustration of becoming institutionalized, but on the staff side.

The other day I was getting ready to go to work when I just happened to glance out my apartment window and what did I see but two men dressed in camo with big guns.  Now, most people would see that sight and think, "HOLY $*#&! WTF IS THAT?!?!?!?"  But not me.  Having been in prison for five years, I have become accustomed to the sight of men in camo with big guns because whenever the Emergency Response Team shows up to help out with shakedowns, that is what they wear.

When I saw them, my first thought was actually, "I bet they are going down by the creek to play paintball."  Now, with hindsight I know this is completely ridiculous because paintball guns DO NOT look like that.  But, my mind was rationalizing the uncommon-outside-of-prison scene that was playing out in front of it, so that's what it went with.  I picked up my phone because I had just set it down to walk out the door but as I was looking at it I thought "Who am I really going to call?  HB and tell him...what?  911 and tell them there are guys with guns outside?  Ha!  Yeah right."  So I set my phone back down, looked back out the window, didn't see anyone and proceeded to walk out to my garage.

As I was walking out to my car, I heard some squirrels making quite a racket for squirrels on the roof of my garage.  When I looked up to investigate, I saw the two guys with guns on the roof all commando style POINTING THEIR GUNS RIGHT AT MY APARTMENT BUILDING.  The thoughts that went through my head happened in this exact order:
2. Do NOT ask them what they are doing, in case the answer is "We're shooting YOU!"
3. Don't turn around to go back inside, because then you will make yourself a perfect target
4. Just get in the car and drive away as erratically as you can so they will have a harder time aiming at you.

So that's exactly what I did, and luckily I did not have to dodge any bullets whizzing by my head as I made my frantic escape.

After safely getting out of the parking lot, I plotted my next move.  I had seen a sheriff's office up the road a bit so I decided to stop by there and let them know that there were snipers at my house.  When I got there, there were no officers, but there was one employee from the country club across the street who was annoyed because all the sheriffs had parked their cars in the way of his maintenance equipment.  I asked him if he knew if anyone worked there, and he said no, it was just where they parked their cars, but that he had seen a bunch of people in camo leave a little bit ago.  I felt a little better after hearing that, and then he gave me the non-emergency phone number so I could call when I got to work.

Once I arrived at work, I immediately called the dispatcher and asked what the heck was going on and did they know there were GUYS WITH BIG GUNS ON MY ROOF.  She calmly confirmed that she did, and when I asked "WELL WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE??" she replied that they were serving a warrant.

Dumbfounded, I hung up the phone without asking the million dollar question: "WHAT THE HECK KIND OF WARRANT ARE YOU SERVING AT MY APARTMENT COMPLEX THAT NEEDS SNIPER COVERAGE?!?!?!?!?"

Needless to say, when I got home I saw the aftermath of the whatever the heck it was.  The neighbor one floor down and two apartments over had his windows shot out and boarded up, and from what I could see through the windows it looked like someone had tried to barricade the window with a mattress.  I was extremely glad that I decided to go to work and not stick around and see the shoot out.  I never did find out what happened with that neighbor, but the next day the family members came to move all the furniture out of the apartment and I was very surprised my gangster radar hadn't gone off previously, because they were all definitely gangster-looking with copious amounts of neck tattoos.

Anyway, the moral of this story, future prison librarians, is that when you see people with big guns outside of prison, that is definitely NOT normal, so don't try to rationalize it away and do call some sort of authorities, justincase the guys with guns are not authorities.

Until next time!