Friday, November 20, 2015

Prison Laugh o' the Day, but then also some thoughts

Patron overheard talking to her friend in the library:
"Oh no, unlike everyone else in here, I am actually guilty..."

That is one of the stereotypes of prison-that everyone inside thinks they are not guilty and are there because of The Man, or whatever.  When I first heard this patron say that, I laughed to myself but then it made me reflect on what I have observed during my six years behind the walls.  Many of my patrons are in prison because of substance abuse.  Now, I am not a mental health professional, but I have spent many hours observing and interacting with my patrons on a professionally personal level (i.e. they feel comfortable enough with me to let their guard down and share things and I direct them to library resources to help them with their information needs related to what they want to work on at the time) and I see lots of patterns.

In my opinion, substance abuse is self-medicating the deeper problem of people having pain in their lives that they find it difficult to overcome.  Working in prison has made me realize how extremely blessed I am to have come from a stable and loving home, and even though my parents divorced when I was young, they were mature enough to not let their problems bleed over into my life and they were both involved with raising me and I feel like I turned out pretty good.  However, many of my patrons had parents who abused them, took drugs in front of them when they were kids, and/or were in prison themselves, among many other things.  It's easy to sit up on a high horse and judge people who have fallen so far down that they hit rock bottom and kept digging, but how can you really know that if you had been faced with the same situations you wouldn't have turned out the same way?

One of the saddest stories I heard about one of my patrons was the girl who was 22 years old, in prison for many years, and her mom used to sell her to men to rape for drug money.  If that wasn't bad enough, she saw her brother murdered in front of her in their living room.  When I first met her, she was one of the most disrespectful people I had ever encountered and I could tell she was full of hate.  She spent more time locked up in segregation than she did in the library for the first couple years I knew her.  But then, things began to change, and she would say hello back when I said hi in the yard.  She started coming to the library more, and then one day she was showing the library clerks how to make 3D origami stars.  Stories like that really underscore the notion that you should be kind to everyone because you don't know the personal battles that people are fighting.

One of the favorite lines that the patrons say is "Oh, staff.  They are just like us, the only difference is, they haven't been caught yet."  Unfortunately, that is sometimes true.  When I first started I had an officer friend who was awesome, and then one day she wasn't at work anymore.  Turned out, she had a hot UA, or in laymen's terms, she had to take a drug test and failed.  It's really hard to maintain any credibility when you tell people not to do something and then turn around and get caught doing the same thing.

Until next time!


  1. I totally agree with you, and I've seen the same things you're describing. I often wonder if my life had taken different turns at a few crucial points if I might have ended up wearing greens.
    For a really phenomenal video on addiction, go to

    1. Wow, what a powerful Ted Talk! Thank you so much for sharing it! It is my hope that the positivity I put out in my job everyday will help my patrons feel that connection to something that the speaker talks about. You just never know how your kind words can make a difference in someone's life, especially because, as prison librarians, we never really get to see our success stories.