Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And now let me present....

Hello dear readers, and happy New Year's Eve!  As we wind down 2014, I have some excellent news to report:  WE GOT MINTERN BACK HAPPY YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!  AND she has agreed to be a guest blogger, so that you all can get a sense of what prison librarianship is like from Day 1.  So, without further adieu, I will turn the floor over to Mintern.

Hello, there, readers!

I am really excited to start working as a full-time minion at the prison library instead of an unpaid mintern! I just received my Masters in Library and Information Science this month, and I’m ready to put my new skills to use in a real library. But, before I get to do librarian stuff, I’ll spend the next five weeks participating in basic training for the Department of Corrections alongside about 100 correctional officers, 10 parole officers, and 4 medical staff. I’m sure the training process is different for every state, but I hope I can give you a little peak at what kind of training you’ll go through as a correctional employee before you can even start training in your library. If I make it through all five weeks, I’ll have passed three written tests and one physical test.

Now, when I first heard the term “basic training” my heart rate picked up a bit because I imagined a lot of sweaty, eight-hour shifts filled with running laps and repetitive push-ups. In reality, the most grueling physical activity I’ve done so far is lifting a giant three-ring binder filled with copies of PowerPoint presentations. (The State loves three-ring binders. The only thing it loves more than three-ring binders is the PowerPoint copies that get put into those binders.) By the end of week one, we had talked about everything from professionalism to games criminals play to fire safety and communicable diseases. 

However, regardless of the content of the lesson, at the crux of every single discussion was the overarching theme of “offender success.” Successful reintegration is a high priority for the department. In training we’ve been learning some really progressive criminological theories and effective management practices. Every staff member can promote offender success through motivational interviewing and positive professional communication. The entire department has shifted its focus from merely warehousing criminals to actively trying to change the thought process of the offender. We spent a lot of time discussing how the state is addressing the 8 criminogenic factors according to each offender’s individual needs as well as how each staff member can be a constructive role model.

Promoting offender success has been a pretty controversial topic in my training class. Some people don’t believe that offenders deserve our compassion or empathy. The idea of encouraging offender success makes quite a few people uncomfortable. As a librarian, I think these concepts come naturally. After all, our profession is all about doing good in the community and helping the public. That being said, I think it might be worthwhile to contemplate how helping an offender achieve his or her personal goals would make you feel before you commit to a career in corrections. Most offenders are incarcerated because they did really bad things; and, as a prison librarian, it would be your job to treat the ‘bad guys’ with the same respect and professionalism as any other patron in a more conventional library setting regardless of the crime that was committed. Just something to think about while you are considering a job in prison!

Until next time! Mintern, over and out.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Why do you hate democracy?"

Is what I wanted to ask at the meeting today where we decided if people can have their mail. One of the hallmarks of a democratic society is the free exchange of ideas and one of the missions of prison is to get these people in our care ready to return to said democratic society. Unfortunately, some people let their own feelings get in the way of the free exchange of ideas, but because they do it in the name of security, they get their way.
It's a lot like this whole fiasco with the movie The Interview that has been censored because of "threats to national security."  Throw out some magic words and all of a sudden people are willing to subvert the first amendment.
I don't even know what to do anymore. Ethically, libraries are supposed to fight for the freedom of expression, the freedom of information and against censorship. The Prisoner's Right to Read even says "That material contains unpopular views or even repugnant content does not provide justification for censorship." Yes, the Nazis did terrible things, but just because it makes you think there is only one reason for having materials about their history doesn't mean that everyone else thinks that. But when I voice my opinion, nobody else is with me and I am consistently overruled. What can I do? Is intellectual freedom worth my job?
Sometimes, future prison librarians, you have to make decisions like that. Can you be a librarian who is an intellectual freedom fighter in an environment that does everything it can to quash free expression? Can you stand for professional best practices when people personally attack you? Can you censor an item when your direct supervisor says to do it or lose your job?
Being a prison librarian is a very romantic notion: you get to serve all these underserved people and you will make a difference every day. Oftentimes that is true, but there's also another frustrating and stressful side to it that you should consider before you enter into this branch of librarianship.
Until next time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Prison tattoos-Library style!

If you have spent any time watching Lockup, or any of the other various behind-prison-walls shows, you know that tattoos are huge in prison.  I bet 1 out of 5 tattoo artists in your neighborhood tattoo parlor learned everything he needed to know about tattooing in prison.  Just kidding, professional tattoo artists go through a lot of training and apprenticeship hours, and I have lots of respect for their artistry.  But there are many tattoo artists in prison so when your gel ink pen goes missing, just know that it is probably finding new life as tattoo ink.

So today the clerks were talking about tattoos while we were getting the book drop and they were joking that they should have library clerk tattoos.  I told them that would be a great idea if it weren't illegal and thought that would be then end of it.

When I was coming back from signing in at the office, the clerks were laughing hysterically.  Because sometimes I just don't want to know, I told them "Let's go!" and we went to the next unit.  Lo and behold, in the next unit book drop was a book that someone had sworn up and down that they turned in two days previously.  (Note: usually that happens, so if someone swears they turned a book in, tell them "OK, We will look everywhere here and you go back and look everywhere in your room and if it hasn't turned up by the time you come back, THEN we will freak out.")

That made the clerks howl with laughter and in response to my quizzical look, one let me in on the joke:

Clerk: "You know that tattoo that some of the women have that says 'Trust no b****'?  Well we are going to have our library clerk tattoo be 'Trust no b**** who says she put her books in the book drop!'"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Party like it's 1981!!!!

Greetings, readers!

Tonight's blog will give you a small insight into what it's like to weed books in prison............

So the other day we had a GED teacher retire after a long and illustrious career.  She left us many books and her boss graciously passed the usable ones along to us and discarded the old ones including a set of encyclopedias from 1981.  I thanked her, and went along on my merry way.

Fast forward to 5 minutes from then, and I got my first phone call:

Me: "Library, how may I help you?"
Officer: "Yes, is this the library?"
Me: "Yes it is, how may I help you?"
Officer: "Um, I have some offenders who are wondering why you threw all these books away."
Me: "Well, it was actually the teacher, but it's ok, they are supposed to be in the trash because they are encyclopedias from 1981."
Officer: "They want to know if they can get them out of the trash."
Me: "No, they are from 1981.  They need to stay in the trash."
Officer: "Ok, bye."

Now, dear readers, nobody EVER throws anything away in prison.  They are the KINGS AND QUEENS of repurposing items.  They were repurposing things before repurposing became trendy.  My patrons simply cannot accept the idea of library weeding because "Someone will want to read those!!!!"  When I respond that nobody has wanted to read them in 3 years, or nobody wants to read a book that is only pages 25-167, they look at me as if I am speaking gibberish.  And if nobody wants to read the items, they want to cut them up and decorate their bulletin boards.  Nobody cares that it's still state property and our rules state that we can not give state property to offenders for personal use.  "Ha, rules?  I care not a fig for your RULES!" is what they would say if they had a good vocabulary.

About 30 minutes after my first phone call I was out getting the book drop and the officer in the office (different officer) where I was signing in asked me why we threw away a set of perfectly good encyclopedias.  After a *facepalm* I explained again why it was ok that they were in the trash.

Me: "Do you know how many things have happened since 1981??  Like THE INTERNET?!?!?"
Officer: "Oh, I guess you're right."
Me: "We would actually be doing them a disservice by letting them keep those hopelessly out-of-date encyclopedias.  I have some current ones in the library they can look at any time they like."

The next day took the cake though.  I was out getting the book drop again and I stopped in yet another block office to sign in and I was greeted by a very happy-sounding officer:

Officer: "The offenders in that pod are SO HAPPY! They rescued a perfectly good set of encyclopedias from the trash that someone just THREW AWAY!"

So now I think that these encyclopedias are somewhere floating around in one of the units.  I can't bring myself to go find them and confiscate them, because right now I have way too many other things on my plate than fighting the Battle of the 1981 Encyclopedias.

Until next time!