Thursday, November 26, 2009

On the Stump for Jails Service

A couple months ago, I spoke to a class of future librarians and library technicians. The topic was Jails: Human Warehouse or Human Community. My goal was to present library service as a way to celebrate the vital human community that exists inside each Jail. The community includes inmates, deputies and all the support staff of various programs. That inner community, of course, extends outward to the families and neighborhoods left behind and to which most inmates will return. Libraries acknowledge the interacting communities and serve the reader "where they are" at any given time. If they are sentenced to Jail, they have an even greater need for Community support in the form of Books and Magazines!

Warehouse vs. Community

The Warehouse model occurs whenever human groups trade in altruism for efficiency. If there is no curiosity or interest in the needs of others, a systematic selfishness takes over. "The System" is bound to exclude, isolate or judge what does not serve its end. Any person who interferes with the efficient, regulated flow of people and machines in this system is sidelined until he or she or it is back in "compliance." Community comes to be seen as a privilege earned and protected by rigid conventions, or, worse still, gates and guns.

Questionable or QUESTIONING individuals are targeted until they demonstrate their allegiance and compliance. Young people or people with addictive behaviors are put aside and criminalized, rather than heard and welcomed into the "Club" of "Functioning Adults." Why do "Functional, Efficient Societies" depend on Jails and Sheriffs to house their outcasts? Of course, some behaviors endanger and victimize others in the community, but the cycle of endangerment and victimization is not addressed by warehousing or punishment, but by impassioned engagement and CARE! Torture and Forced Labor are outlawed by constitutional amendments, but Detention and Storage accomplish the same ends: exclusion, isolation and judgment. For many, this corrective "Time Out" becomes long years of "Time In" custody.

People, unlike books, don't sit on a shelf in silence. They grow and change; they are capable of a thousand new thoughts and behaviors. The Sheriff's Department is known for its commitment to public safety, but their twin responsibility is less appreciated or well-known. They are charged to house, inform, educate and inspire the human beings who come into their care. The library is proud to serve this human community and intervene so people are not warehoused on our watch.

A couple weeks after my talk, I received an EXCELLENT DONATION from one of the students in the class! Comic books are wildly popular and serve to bridge low literacy with story, as well as satisfying artistic needs.