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.

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