Sunday, December 17, 2006

All that passes from the state of heaviness to the state of subtletly passes through the moment of fire and light.

--Paul Valery, French Poet

dan's 2cents: A student I tutored long ago was released from prison into a program house. It is run by a very capable and caring team who know incarceration inside out. The student is very bright and we both agree that a program called Project Rebound is an excellent place to let his light shine.

He has started and stopped the application process many times, usually because he's back in jail. I am involved in the current sign-up process. I don't know if it will happen this time, though he seems more determined (Third time's a charm, he says.)

How does a person leave the state of heaviness--the American Penal System, addiction, or other problems of which I'm not aware? How does a person reach the state of subtlety which Higher Education, Recovery programs and Mental Health treatment seem to promise?

The French Poet says it is necessary to be transformed, consumed by "the moment of fire and light." How does that passion translate into human terms? I don't think "self-improvement" is enough. The deepest emotional centers of the brain must be engaged in this transformation--something a consumer culture cannot inspire.

What can inspire change? Religion...if it venerates all things. Therapy...if it generates awareness. Poetry...the best of religion and therapy, the Imagination.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

California Library Association's 2006 Fall Report:

Prison Librarianship 101 was the hit of the party! Well, maybe not. But a full room showed up to listen to the panel of speakers and participate in the discussion. I sensed a hundred unasked and unanswered questions and comments, since so much collective "Jails Library" experience was in that room. We needed more time for audience participation.

It was informative to combine Prison libraries, County Library Services to Jails (our type,) and Literacy Programs. It increased our sense of shared purpose, even though we serve in a wide variety of correctional settings. Programs, ages and correctional environments vary, but the NEEDS are much the same.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Jails Librarian’s job satisfaction is very high. The sheer enthusiasm of Inmate Readers is the reason that Prison Librarians remain jazzed about the job, even as the funding fluctuates. A prominent Prison Librarian, Vibeke Lehmann, writes, “One can safely say that incarcerated

persons have a large number of unmet needs, which translate into a high demand for information, learning materials, and self-improvement resources; the library, in cooperation with other prison programmes, can play a vital role in meeting these needs. An inmate who wants to use his time constructively is likely to become an avid library user…. (Lehmann, p 28)

Our own experience with inmates in the County Jail affirms Dr. Lehmann’s statistic that Inmates use libraries very heavily—up to 10 times as much as people on the outside. Much of the job satisfaction and measurement of success is based on oral accounts that back up this statistic. Many inmates in our own County Jail from age 18 to 65 say they do not read “on the streets,” or “never enter a bookstore or library.” Yet in the absence of interpersonal distractions, or perhaps to avoid interpersonal interactions in the jail, nearly everyone reads! What more could a librarian desire?

Another measure of job satisfaction and success comes from the Prison or Jails Staff. Our Jails Librarian is frequently told that Inmate Behavior and Morale improves when Reading Material is regularly available. Conversely, the keenest disappointment for Library staff and the greatest provocation of inmate complaints are the two words: “Denied Access.” When over-stretched Deputies or misbehaving inmates cause the library service to be cancelled, everyone’s mood is affected and the complaint slips start to stack up. If we are repeatedly denied access, the Librarian’s primary duty is to advocate for the Inmates’ right to read by contacting Inmate Services. Deputies of higher rank than house deputies either force the lower ranking officers to monitor our visit or arrange for assistance in the performance of our task.

As one might expect, the dance with competing authority figures takes a toll at times, exhausting even the most resilient librarian. Though Dr. Lehmann asserts that Prisons are more focused on restorative justice, entailing higher standards for rehabilitation, she is well aware of the sound of metal sliders slamming closed:

The library programme does not function independently but operates within the larger prison environment, whose mission and security policies often conflict with the library profession's code of ethics and its belief in free access to information…. The work requires flexibility, patience, emotional stability, a high tolerance for stress, and a sense of humor.… Not losing one's cool is essential, since it may appear as a weakness that can be exploited. Stressful situations abound, since inmates are very needy, demanding and impatient….Support from the administration may not always be forthcoming, and the prison bureaucracy may seem formidable. Some administrative decisions may appear arbitrary. A sense of humor is essential; it relieves stress and defuses tense situations. Humor also improves relationships with inmates and co-workers and can reduce the inevitable barrier between security and programme staff. It helps a person see problems in perspective and avoid "burnout", an occupational hazard generally defined as a state of indifference or cynicism resulting from frustration and a feeling of helplessness. Being mentally able to leave work behind at the end of the day helps one stay sane. (Lehmann, 29-30).

This adverse environment, however, draws certain strong-willed and committed souls into its confines. The Whole Library Handbook mentions guidelines for behavioral performance that apply doubly to Jails Librarians. Due to the mental health and entertainment needs of incarcerated persons, nothing could be a more relevant repertoire of behaviors than the following: “approachability, interest, listening and inquiring, searching and follow-up.” (Eberhart, pps. 329-331.)

So jump into the Jails, fellow Librarians, your readers are waiting.

Lehmann, V. (2000) Prison Librarians Needed, IFLA Journal 2, pp. 123-128. Retrieved from on October 30, 2006.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Questions and Answers--15/4/2006

How can I write about beauty
when I'm surrounded by misery?

How can I write
about the morning rain
when my window lacks a view…

So why?
I keep drifting away, to wonder
when hopelessness is so thick in the air,
why do I keep searching,
when all the doors around me are closed.
Why do I look toward to a future,
when I lack a present?

How can I escape the grip of my demons
when they dwell within me?
How do I thrive to revive my inner child
when I am the cause of his death?

Why is my search so complicated
when I am living my destiny...
Why then,
If I have all the answers
do I keep searching for truths…

G. Alvarado 06’

dan's 2 cents: This site has one stunning poem after another, most relating to the experience of prison men's groups. The groups are called "INSIDE circles." Finding the site was one of those serendipitous things that now happens online, just like it used to "in the stacks."

Mr. Alvarado's words conveyed the truth of incarceration in sobering terms. A very clear question rung out in every stanza, reminding me of Paul Tillich's, The Courage to Be.

This quest is deeply personal, yet, in the larger sense, this shining wave of questions breaks across the entire range of minds locked up inside our jails. Why anticipate a future "when I lack a present?" "How can I escape the grip of my demons? How can I thrive to revive...?" "Why is my search so complicated?" This phrase, in particular, rattles every cage of every cell, demanding knowledge. Men trained to look tough and expected to have all the answers--men who've learned the penalties and rewards for every action the hard way--still search for truth.

Our humble book service brings just a portion of this knowledge, spurring inmates' to ask deeper questions. For this reason, our books must be relevant, sparking the pleasure centers of the brain so that feeling for life and the search for meaning can continue. We might keep Mr. Alvarado's quest in our heart as we face those whose mission is merely human warehousing. Every committee meeting, training session, budget initiative, book buying trip and quiet conversation advocating books is worth HIS while and ultimately worth OUR while.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Yesterday, we had a surprise request. The last man in line at our bookcart chose his two books and magazine and headed through the cell-block door. He looked over his shoulder and said in the most cheerful voice, "Thanks for the books! Pray for me, my name is ----- -----, EFG629!"

The Deputy and my Coworker laughed as I shouted back, "We'll pray for you but God doesn't need your PFN (Prisoner File Number!)"

Here in the middle of a county jail with the TV blaring it seemed there might just be some "Higher Power" who had us all tagged and classified according to our deeds and misdeeds. Maybe this man was on to something. It shows there will always be work for Librarians--even after death. Who is going to organize and sort out all those serial numbers? God must surely need help!

Well, I've already forgotten the guy's name so I'll just have to pray for everybody.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Imagine Librarians sitting silent at their desks with an FBI letter in front of them. The spurious provisions of the Patriot Act would force them to remain silent, gagged and bound to the stake of "public safety." The real threat to public safety comes not from our patrons and their research, but from the democratically-challenged Bush administration.

The end of democratic libraries is only a few gavel taps away. Only the courts and a wavering tradition of free speech protect us. When will we be taking books to Jailed Librarians???

ACLU challenges warrantless ISP and library searches

by Andrew Noyes, National Journal's Technology Daily
Aug. 8, 2006

Civil-liberties defenders will renew their court challenge to a special subpoena power built into anti-terrorism law that permits the FBI to scour library and Internet service provider files without search warrants.

The practice is allowed under "national security letters," a power recently reauthorized in the 2001 law known as the USA PATRIOT Act. The law bars recipients of the letters from disclosing the requests to anyone.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter filed a new federal complaint last month, the groups said Monday. The legal papers originally were under seal because of the gag provision, but redacted versions were released with court approval.

The ACLU launched the case in April 2004 on behalf of an unnamed Internet service provider that received a subpoena. Several months later, a U.S. district court in New York ruled the power unconstitutional. The judge in the case, Victor Marrero, held that indefinite gag orders violate First Amendment free-speech rights, the ACLU said.

The government appealed the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but before the court could rule, Congress amended the language on national security letters, the ACLU said. In May, the appeals court asked the district court to examine the amended language.

In its latest complaint, the ALCU argues that the gag provision gives the FBI authority to suppress speech without prior judicial review. The group also contends that the subpoena power is unconstitutional because while it permits courts to review the letters after they are issued, judges must defer to the FBI.

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's lead counsel in the case, called secretive government use of the letters "excessive and dangerous." According to news reports, investigators issue about 30,000 annually.

The letter in the pending case had a substantial effect on the plaintiff, who is still gagged and identified as "John Doe" in court paperwork, the ACLU said. Despite firsthand knowledge of the authority, the ISP could not participate in the heated PATRIOT Act debate that ensued nationwide in late 2005 and early 2006, the filing said.

In a similar case, the ACLU represented four Connecticut librarians who were part of a consortium that received a national security letter. The group challenged the FBI, and the government eventually withdrew its information demand and abandoned the gag order. The Supreme Court last week ordered that sealed court documents be made public.

George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection, hopes the ACLU's renewed fight results in a "definitive ruling" on "the limits of the extent to which [the letters] can be used to secure information from organizations that have collections of information.

"Emily Sheketoff of the American Library Association said the ISP case "will add to the growing judicial agreement" that the "sweeping and perpetual gag order accompanying [such letters] is unconstitutional."

Fight back. Support the ACLU (Americans Confronting Lawless Usurpation) :-)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The University of Wisconsin Library School ROCKS! It was such a treat to see this clear, simple presentation of what makes a Jails Library program tick.

Here's our Version:

Most wanted items
Dictionaries, Almanacs, Atlases, Thesauri
New fiction, magazines, and Non-fiction in Spanish

Most wanted authors
Sidney Sheldon, Stuart Woods, Dean Koontz, Donald Goines, Stephen King, John Grisham, James Patterson, Louis L'Amour, Anne Rice (remember, someone blew me a KISS for finding Taltos!), John Saul, Janet Evanovich, Iris Johansen, Michael Connelly, Stephen Hunter, Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum.

Most wanted subjects
Poetry, especially love poems!!!!
Religion, especially Islam
Physical and mental health
Psychology and self-help
Job manuals and career advice
Hobbies and games: chess, card games, Scrabble, drawing
True Crime, [Ann Rule] and Crime: gangs and prison life
AODA and recovery materials

African-American nonfiction topics:
Black history, slavery, Black nationalism

African-American fiction: Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris, Mary B. Morrison, Eric Jerome Dickey + any URBAN STREET FICTION

Westerns: Louis L'Amour, Larry McMurtry, William Johnstone, Jake Logan, Gunsmith, Spur and Longarm!!

Romance: Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts

Science fiction/fantasy: Star Wars, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Salvatore, Jordan, Modesitt, Weis & Hickman

Monday, July 31, 2006

Marta is one of the excellent team who supports our Jails Program. One of her roles is filling requests. The meticulous matching of request slip to material has paid off!

We received an enthusiastic "thank you" for materials supplied to an inmate on the Max Side who is teaching social studies to a small class of inmates in his cell-block. "This hidden university...appreciates your concern of us not wasting quality time. That is essential in enlightenment of the mind. 'The mind is a terrible thing to waste' was the most powerful commercial ever made...." The Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, expressed the same thing after seeing all the vitality and intellectual capacity of the men incarcerated around him going to waste.

This guy likes to instruct the young about political issues. He doesn't shy away from controversy or complexity. Some months ago, he was exercising in the outer yard--each inmate gets some solo "solar" recharging--and I offered him a book about the "Authoritarian Personality."

I hope he continues to discover and share mental freedom with his "cellies." It is imperative in a jail--which teaches adaptation to order and routine--to knock the authoritarian monkey off our backs! Our aim should be to return citizens who understand self-control onto our streets, not automatons who merely follow orders. And thanks to great library service, we will.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

From Great Falls Tribune, a profile of the inmates and volunteer librarians who serve them at Cascade County Regional Jail. Fiction, fantasy and Western novels are particularly popular, but the population is hard on the books, sometimes even ripping out a page in the middle or the last page of a book (this happened to Harry Potter). One of the inmates repairs the thousands of books in the jail's library and fills the carts each week with special requests from other average of 25 book requests a week.

--posted on LISnews

dan's 2 cents:

Ah, book repair. "Mends" takes on a whole new meaning with jails paperbacks. I know the plummeting feeling when a Robert McCammon or Jackie Collins is missing the last few pages, usually snatched to scratch a phone message. Where will we find these world classics again???

Since many of our books are bought from used book stores or come to us after years of circulation in a branch, we do our darnedest to patch them up again. Industrial size scotch tape works best for surgery. Though heavy-duty staples might make our "fix" last longer, we can't risk sending thick metal staples into the jail since they can be fashioned into weapons.

Certain genres are always in short supply so we have a special procedure for turning hardback discards into paperbacks, complete with their original book jackets. It is named the "Krehbiel Krunch" after a former Jails Librarian. You have to crack the tough fibers that bind the cardboard cover to the spine, then rip like crazy. The discarded cover makes a satisfying clunk as it hits the garbage can! Large Print, African-American, Spanish materials and Dictionaries often undergo this procedure. Benefit: the life of the book is extended and the librarian's muscles get toughened up. Problem: how to sell the mended books to our inmates. They are the "wrong size" and often get passed over on the bookcart. Many inmates like the mass-market feel. Small stacks of same-sized paperbacks make better barbells after they are squeezed into old socks or knotted together with torn rubber gloves. Ah, the joy of book rescue and resuscitation! Our prized paperbacks with the snazziest covers also wind up as padding for bunk beds. We would prefer they snuggle up on the back of Catherine Coulter or Nora Roberts, which are always in abundant supply. But it's usually Patricia Cornwell or James Patterson. Go figure.

All things considered, we're glad to see that Montanans create as much work for their menders as Californians do.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Patron, come in....

"Choose any book you want," it says.
The iron grill above the Gate
spells out the words in cursive script.

Since I expect to be here for some time,
I'm pleased to see that reading is
an option. I see another sign:

"Patron, come in." The floor is cool,
the columns twined with marble ivy.
There are no lines to check out books.

This is no living library,
I look around the silent crypt,
a tombstone on every spine.

Some are standing tall, pristine;
others cracked and leaning.
What shall I take to read?

Misers of love and Ministers of doubt
amassed a wealth of ironies,
then left us their sad stories.

"Oh, Reader, Stop and Weep," is one
of the more maudlin titles here,
"Mon Semblable, mon Frere, " another reads!

"Au contraire!" I say, "I am a man
of mirth; there must be another gate
for those who didn't WANT to die!"

No answer. "Do any of these books
get any circulation?" I inquire.
Behind my back, the Gate creaks closed.

--dan (this might be the ideal afterlife for Anne Rice fans!)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Is this inmate gonna make it? You decide:

“Library Staff: I am in desperate need of some reading material A.S.A.P. please. I have read anything & everything available in my pod and cannot bear another day with nothing to occupy time except counting squares in the gate (812 per section, 12, 180 squares in all) or staring at walls lol. Anyway if possible could you please send #2 #3 #4 in the Gunslinger, Dark Tower series by Stephen King as well as anything by the following authors: Wambaugh, Turow, Sheldon, Cook, Koontz or” [Drum-roll please!] “James Patterson…I appreciate it greatly.”

This young man sure sounds like a refugee who has fallen onto hard times or wound up on the other side of the law. Maybe it's time to create cyber-jails. It might alleviate the boredom to have touch screen walls and online university for every inmate. (I'm sure the Department of Defense would be willing to fork over the cash for a cyber-retrofit of all our nation's jails.)

Anywho, this patron will get his wished-for paperbacks: “Irreversible Errors, Vector, and Finnegan’s Week.” (James Joyce, laugh all you want at our terrible American Puns. Meanwhile, your native Ireland becomes a magnet for innovation and jobs, while here in the U.S.A., we’re fighting the war on error! oops, terror!)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Judge outlaws prison group's Bible program
Saturday, June 3, 2006; Posted: 11:13 a.m. EDT (15:13 GMT)DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)

A judge has ruled that a Bible-based prison program violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause by using state funds to promote Christianity to inmates.Prison Fellowship Ministries, which was sued in 2003 by an advocacy group, was ordered Friday to cease its program at the Newton Correctional Facility and repay the state $1.53 million."This calls into question the funding for so many programs," said Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the suit.

"Anyone who doesn't stop it is putting a giant 'sue me' sign on top of their building."Lynn's group accused Prison Fellowship Ministries of giving preferential treatment to inmates participating in the program. They were given special visitation rights, movie-watching privileges, access to computers and access to classes needed for early parole.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt called the perks "seemingly minor benefits" that constituted unfair treatment to those not in the religious program. Despite any claims of rehabilitating inmates, the program "impermissibly endorses religion," Pratt wrote.The InnerChange Freedom Initiative was implemented in Newton in 1999. State prison officials have said they hired the religious group to improve inmate behavior and reduce recidivism -- not promote Christianity.

Ministry president Mark Earley said in a statement Friday that the group plans to appeal the ruling and believes its program is constitutional."This decision, if allowed to stand, will enshrine religious discrimination," Earley said. "It has attacked the right of people of faith to operate on a level playing field in the public arena and to provide services to those who volunteered to receive them."The judge gave the group's workers 60 days to leave the prison, though he put a stay on his order, meaning the decision won't officially be implemented until the appeals process is complete.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Dan's 2 Cents: Let the gavel fall. There shall be no “official” faith. This article highlights the inherent problem of sliding state grants into the pockets of Prison Ministries or any faith-based program. Prisons and jails are adverse environments where humans suffer.

How do Correctional Officers offer comfort to inmates that makes their suffering bearable and prepares them for life on “The Outside?” In Iowa, they call in the God-Squad!Instead of trying to humanize the penal system with progressive training to staff and prison educators PAID FROM WITHIN, the state seeks to CONTRACT OUT its responsibility for rehabilitation. Why does the State back away from the untidy personal aspects of incarceration? By doing so, it becomes increasingly mechanical, as if housing, feeding and crowd-control were its only mandates.

Truth is, behind those prison walls, real people are guarding other real people. Claude Brown’s memoir, Manchild in the Promised Land, showed how NY Juvenile Corrections conducted God-free rehabilitation back in the fifties. It was done man to man, person to person. They didn’t always get it right, but they made an effort.This case illustrates the burden of being an American in 2006.

How did we become a “Prison Society,” happy to warehouse human beings? We have created a costly “Us” and “Them,” yet the ordinary tax-paying citizen receives little benefit from this dehumanizing process. Our prisons do not increase public safety, though a thousand sheriffs and politicians campaign on this platform. Incarceration does create jobs in the short-run; but, in the long run, state economies become dependent on locking people up and locking people OUT.With tax-exempt, non-profit churches now reaching into the State Treasuries, it is obvious that our society depends on creating a “Fallen People” that the Saints can coerce back into conformity while they are behind bars. This access to inmates is based on the concept that you cannot “shut faith out” of public places. I agree completely, but the transaction is private and voluntary.

In one Christian story, Jesus walks through the wall and appears inside an upper room without using the door or stairs. There you have it, plain and simple: Faith has a free pass. Why mix that up with money—unless your goal is to get rich manipulating the vulnerable inmate who seeks release from guilt and relief from boredom? This greed is what seems to be behind PFM Director, Mark Early’s, desire for “an even playing field.”The game changes when you make the religious counselor—the friend to the friendless—his paid confessor. There is then manipulation on both sides.

In this Iowa case, inmates vying for precious privileges were able to play the God-Squad for a bigger share of the prison pie. Is it right or fair for them to be fast-tracked for signing on to God’s Plan? The fact that the PFM inmates received more perks and benefits than other inmates, however, is a sub-issue of the primary problem: turning rehab into religion. (For this reason, blame should not be pinned on the religious program; but on the correctional facility, for allowing inmates unfair advantages. The Correctional staff should broaden opportunities for the growth of all their inmates.)

In conclusion, I am not criticizing Prisons and Jails for contracting out services to non-profit organizations. Our library provides a regular library service consisting of all the books and magazine choices one would find in any public library (with some minor exceptions.) However, we have a contractual relationship that is clearly distinguished from the relationship of the MANY religious volunteers who serve the inmates. These volunteers seek volunteers from the prison population, and, thereby, enjoy a Freedom of Association—and Freedom of Religion—regardless of watchtowers, fences and bars. Let’s rehabilitate the Constitution and teach the responsibilities of citizenship to inmates. That is the kind of program that will prepare men and women for Liberty—or life on America’s streets.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

12 is the luckiest number

An inmate approached our book cart and knelt down beside another guy browsing the bottom shelf. When asked what he was looking for, he said, “Something real that’s made up.” The other inmate chuckled at the young man’s turn of phrase.

Since we are not stocked with bestsellers in “Creative Non-fiction,” I knew I was in trouble. With a little coaxing, we moved past history, crime, and biography to fiction that seemed like it could really happen. Ah, that strategic word, “Plausible!”

“I’ve only read 12 books in my life and I read ‘em all in jail,” he said.

I asked him, “Of those 12 books, what was your favorite one?"

“Well, it was by someone named Nancy or Nancy was in the book,” said the duodeca-libral inmate.

“Nancy Friday?” I asked, knowing how popular this expert on “Women’s fantasies” was among our connoisseurs in the “Men’s Division!”

“Who is she?” said the inmate.

I struck out, unable locate the Nancy of his dreams. (I had forgotten the realism of Nancy Taylor Rosenberg.) We did settle on one of J.A. Jance’s Seattle mysteries. And I saw him pluck a beautiful anthology of African-American poets from the carts. After all, what is more real AND more imaginary than a classic poem?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Common Ground behind bars

We are often asked for religious materials when we are out in the jail distributing books. The Chaplain usually fields most of these requests. Today, Vidya was asked for books on God and she quickly browsed the bookcart for the tell-tale orange dot denoting "Religion/Philosophy." She found a couple titles and handed what she found to the inmate. We only had material relating to Christianity and Buddhism today. The inmate looked them over and said, "I'm a Muslim," and Vidya apologized, (wondering if she should have asked him his religion beforehand.)

The inmate surprised her by saying, "It doesn't matter; these books point to the same God, anyway. I'll take 'em.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

1 in 136 U.S. Residents Behind Bars

WASHINGTON (AP) - Prisons and jails added more than 1,000 inmates each week for a year, putting almost 2.2 million people, or one in every 136 U.S. residents, behind bars by last summer. ....Of particular note was the gain of 33,539 inmates in jails, the largest increase since 1997, researcher Allen J. Beck said. That was a 4.7 percent growth rate, compared with a 1.6 percent increase in people held in state and federal prisons.

Prisons accounted for about two-thirds of all inmates, or 1.4 million, while the other third, nearly 750,000, were in local jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Beck, the bureau's chief of corrections statistics, said the increase in the number of people in the 3,365 local jails is due partly to their changing role. Jails often hold inmates for state or federal systems, as well as people who have yet to begin serving a sentence.

"The jail population is increasingly unconvicted," Beck said. "Judges are perhaps more reluctant to release people pretrial." (John Grisham donations WELCOME!) The report by the Justice Department agency found that 62 percent of people in jails have not been convicted, meaning many of them are awaiting trial.

Overall, 738 people were locked up for every 100,000 residents, ....Men were 10 times to 11 times more likely than women to be in prison or jail, but the number of women behind bars was growing at a faster rate, said Paige M. Harrison, the report's other author.

The racial makeup of inmates changed little in recent years, Beck said. In the 25-29 age group, an estimated 11.9 percent of black men were in prison or jails, compared with 3.9 percent of Hispanic males and 1.7 percent of white males.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, ... criticized sentencing guidelines, which he said remove judges' discretion, and said arrests for drug and parole violations swell prisons. "If we want to see the prison population reduced, we need a much more comprehensive approach to sentencing and drug policy," he said.

COMMENT from Jailslibrarian

Jail Librarians are like Wide Receivers, we go out for the passes that come our way. And the end zone keeps receding down the field, with the magic words "Fiscal Year!" It is a daily challenge to match a shrinking book budget with a 4.7 growth rate in jailed "patrons." This affects crowd control; the patience and workload of deputies (who give the yea or nay to our service,) AND the circulation of our precious paperpacks. How many hands really touch our books?

Some improvisations in our play book are the following: holiday handouts; comic books from the local 1/2 priced bookseller; poetry selections; inspirational bookmarks (our most popular one featured a poem by Assata Shakur,) & the perennial favorite, Gothic Lettering. (Yep, we are the source of innovation in the art of temporary tattoos. One Housing Unit asked us to stop bringing National Geographics because the inmates were dissolving the beautiful inks and applying it to their skin.) All these "extras" help inmates face the sensory deprivation of their living quarters; they complement our bins of paperbacks and magazines really well.

Feel free to post suggestions to help us continue what one member of our staff describes as a "Smoke and Mirrors" show!

Here's a snip from Assata's poem, "Leftovers, what is left?"
Assata, p. 146 (Lawrence Hill Books, 1987)

After the bars and the gates
and the degradation,
What is left?
I mean, like, where is the sun?
Where are her arms and
where are her kisses?
There are lip-prints on my pillow--
i am searching
What is left?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mr. Librarian, remember me?

"Of course," I said to the aging inmate, "Mississippi!"

Two years ago, I was setting up our bookcart to serve the 300 men in a Minimum security house and he was on the work detail to clean floors and distribute food. Since the workers in a house are usually out when we arrive and on the good side of the deputies, they get first dibs on our library books. M. always held back and let others pick books first. That day, however, I really scored when I handed him a "True Crime" book about murders in Mississippi. I guess he'll never forget me, though I hope my notoriety wasn't gained for promoting True Crime!

Why distribute True Crime books to criminals, you ask? Incarcerated folks have the keenest sense of justice of any people I've met, with the possible exception of my older sister during a board game. Like the vast TV audience of shows like Cops, these inmates want to see punishment meted out for crimes worse than ones they have committed. Secondly, most inmates who've done time in the State Penitentiary have had to stay out of the way of serious criminals at one time or another so they are VERY interested in learning about the minds of people who make it into an Ann Rule book.

Back to my pal, Mississippi. I had seen him all over the jail during the past five years and was not thrilled today to see him chilling in Maximum Security. He seemed more suited to "the other side," where the crimes were less severe and the population more likely to be released. M. sat at the metal tables watching us distribute books to the men of his house--190 brawny or scrawny men, vying for one of the payphones or trading the books and magazines we'd just delivered. He said wearily that his work felt a lot like babysitting, which was an accurate assessment, considering the age difference between him and the large number of twenty-year olds locked up there. The energy in the cell block was palpable. Mississippi could have been tired from rising at 4 a.m.; but there is a more profound reason he may have felt worn out.

How many inmates face exhaustion from life, itself; from disappointment, from the depression that comes from aging behind a 12-foot fence, strung with wire? How does our library service help a tired pod-worker "keep his hand on the plough," moving forward. I think we select books and keep returning for a very simple reason. "We are all one spirit, we are all one name." This is how Peter Yarrow told the story in his song, River of Jordan (1972):

I traveled the banks of the River of Jordan
To find where it flows to the sea.
I looked in the eyes of the cold and the hungry
And I saw I was looking at me.
I wanted to know if life had a purpose
And what it all means in the end.
In the silence I listened to voices inside me
And they told me again and again. 

The is only one river. There is only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
There is only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name.
We are the father, mother, daughter and son.
From the dawn of creation, we are one.
We are one. 

Every blade of grass on the mountain
Every drop in the sea
Every cry of a newborn baby
Every prayer to be free
Every hope at the end of a rainbow
Every song ever sung
Is a part of the family of woman and man
And that means everyone. 

We are only one river. We are only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
We are only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name.
We are the father, mother, daughter and son
From the dawn of creation, we are one.
We are one.

Nope, I'll never forget Mississippi.

Friday, May 05, 2006

..."Parting is such sweet sorrow".

One of our own here at the Inside is leaving us for a new job. The Inside is not going away. Others will be taking up the writing assignments and posting news about our Jail experiences. Last days can be stressful for all concerned as saying goodbye is never easy or simple and change always involves loss and uncertainty. But those waiting for books at the jail must be served and continually tell us how very much appreciated we are. Jails service is one of the purest forms of library service today and we are privileged to serve.

Upcoming feature plans include a wish list of paperbacks and magazines.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

LA Times via SJ Mercury today reports an explosion in the number of inmates the California's prisons must house. As many as 23,000 felons and an overall total of 193,000 new inmates by 2011. This increase is taking place amid turmoil on the administrative side of the prison system. Bond sales are being purposed by Govenor Schwarzenegger to raise over $13 billion. In the meantime, the facilities are so crowded that tempers are steadily rising in the prison population. Correctional officers worry that it is only a matter of time before tensions boil over.

Friday, April 21, 2006

LibraryLawBlog via Retrofitted Librarian:

Interesting post about "Dangerous Reference" and the line between reference and "assessory after the fact".

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Random Request for 4/11/06:

"Any books on human physiology or biochemistry and pinocle cards please."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

From Acorn:
According to Christina Rathbone, author of A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars, "The U.S. incarcerates more people each year than any other place in the world other than China. The fastest-growing group within those incarcerated is women." Rathbone details the women in Michigan state prison and the gardening. More.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

This is our common work space where our processing of books and magazines occur. Our industrious volunteers and regular staff stamp or label as needed, remove the smelly perfume samples (more on that later), and cut off any personal identification on the magazines. From there, the items are shelved either in the magazine area or paperback shelves.

We have a nice logo on our Jail van. We can get about 30 bins inside if we stuff it to the gills. Our usual load is about 4 bins per Housing Unit that we visit. We visit 2 or 3 Housing Units per visit.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Jails Librarian is moving! Please be patient.