Ah, the impetuousness of youth! At a scant 25 years of age, I found myself one sunny & gloriously warm early October morning reporting for the first time for work at the infamous Walpole State Prison. Two years prior to my ascending these steps, they were taking people out of Walpole, in body bags, at the estimated rate of once every three weeks.
As I walked up the broad concrete front steps — armed only with my master’s degree in library science, an internship in prison library management, and a youthful willingness to serve bordering on naivete — I remember thinking of all the good I was going to accomplish. This good would take place because correctional libraries are about correcting and, after all, rehabilitation was the primary focus of any prison, the goal of any warden, the desire of all correctional employees, and the mission of the Department of Correction that I was working for.
Well, dreams die, and they die hard.
I gave myself a tough road to go, but, a scant two years later, the truth was finally hammered into my head. And ladies & gentlemen, if you intend on making corrections a career, please learn by heart the title of this post.
In correctional librarianship, it’s not the librarianship that matters, or the rehabilitative programming, or the nice pleasant personality of the librarian, or the prisoners who are in the library trying to better themselves and transform their lives.
Education doesn’t come first.
Rehabilitation doesn’t come first.
Psychiatric services don’t come first.
Inmates reading to their children in the visiting room doesn’t come first.
Buying hardcover bestsellers doesn’t come first.
Developing library programs with a rehabilitative focus doesn’t come first.
What does come first? In corrections, security comes first:
* Security of the facility
* Security of each housing unit,
* Security of each cell in each housing unit
* The safety of the public
* The safety of all correctional employees
* The safety of all incarcerated men and women
Then there’s that correctional managerial buzzword ‘accountability.’ Security staff must be accountable for many things, and they must account for them 24/7/365. Some of these things include:
* All locks
* All keys
* All tools
* All weapons
* All equipment
* All staff, and
* All prisoners
‘Protecting the public’ is the primary mission of all Departments of correction, and to achieve that mission you need security. Security is planning (some reactionary, some proactive), assessment, brainstorming, decision-making, policy creation, implementation, enforcement, and revision as needed. And this process is in constant motion.
Each time security objects to library material, rather than becoming indignant, you must use it as a learning experience. If you say “Why?” they’ll give you an answer, and often they’re coming from an angle that you hadn’t considered. In these situations I’ve been known to say “I wouldn’t have thought of that,” and they’ve been known to answer “Well, it’s my job to think of that.” You get to further understand how the correctional mind works.
The point? Security is trying to run a prison. To do this, they have to figure out a way to:
1 Keep the inmates from harm
2 Keep employees safe so they can live to see another day
3 Create an atmosphere where it’s possible for you and me to socialize and rehabilitate
4 Protect the public
5 Do all these things at the same time
6 Do them perfectly; and
7 Do them unceasingly
Correctional administrators have my utmost respect.
And I admire and love the officers who make it possible for me to try to help the people who need our help. Security comes first, because security must come first.
Without security, no socialization / education/ rehabilitation/ reclamation can take place. Security makes the correctional librarian’s job possible.
Without security, you–the Librarian–are nothing.