Our Return From OZ: or, “How can I ever thank you enough?”

(In which a two-page class exercise on using humor to diffuse stressful situations lends legitimacy to the showing of The Wizard of Oz to adult male prisoners in a medium-security walled facility….)

Last night, we completed a class exercise called “Popular Media and Its Uses in the Identification of Countervailing Humor Types.”  The countervailing humor types are constructive and destructive humor.  This particular use was in the form of a Blu-Ray disk.  And the specific medium used was an educational film for therapeutic purposes called The Wizard of Oz.

Prior to spinning the disk at 300 rpm, I distributed the above-mentioned exercise, containing 11 questions about how Dorothy & her companions use humor in dealing with the stressful situations they need to overcome.  I wasn’t sure how these men would take to answering questions while the lights were low and they were in the process of viewing a beloved movie that most of them haven’t seen since their childhoods.

But most complied, and some of their responses were spot-on, and even surprising.  One question reads:  “What do you consider to be the funniest spoken line in the film?  Does the line make you laugh out loud?  Is the humor constructive or destructive?”  One participant responded thus:  “The funniest line is when Dorothy says, ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’  It did not make me LOL.  The humor is destructive–shows her stupidity.”  This response made ME laugh out loud.  Stupid?  Dorothy?  Whaddaya DO with something like this?  The individual in question is from a country on the African continent, so the cultural gap may explain most of it.  But he reports that he’s lived here nearly twenty years, and he’s not even out of his 20s yet.  “Aw shucks, folks, I’m speechless!”  The following day, he tells me this was his first time seeing the movie.  That, in my view, explains it all.  We who have grown up with the film have emotionally invested in these characters.  What would we have thought of them if we were seeing the movie for the first time in our late 20s?  AND through the lens of a cultural gap?  Probably the same way as this young man.  We’d see Dorothy Gale as a stupid farm kid.  When I tell him, however, that Judy Garland was playing a character much younger than her actual age, that gives him pause.  “OK, now it all makes sense,” he says.  Finally.

To the question of How Uncle Henry uses humor when dealing with Miss Gulch at the farmhouse gate, one fellow writes: “She doesn’t find the humor amusing.  This is probably destructive, because the thrust of it is that she’s talking like a fool.”

The first question reads:  “Dorothy and her companions deal with considerable stress on their journey, yet manage to work in some coping humor along the way.  Name one scene where a character uses humor as a stress reliever.”  A student writes, “When it snows in the poppy field, the Lion awakens & says ‘Unusual weather we’re having.”  Another response: “When they meet the Lion and he’s bullying them, the Scarecrow cracks wise.”  Another:  “When the Lion has to lead the way into the Witch’s castle, he pretends to be all for it, but then asks the other two to ‘Talk me out of it!’  And then what I consider to be a strange response:  “The Wicked Witch of the West uses humor when she is stressed about the ruby slippers.  She laughs as she threatens Dorothy & her dog.”  WTF?   Another student responded, “When the Lion sings his song about his lack of courage, he calls himself ‘a sissy’ and ‘a mouse.’

About five minutes into the film, one prisoner in his 50s tells us: “This is the first time I’ve ever seen this.”  Incredulous, I ask, “How did you avoid it!”  He says, “I didn’t watch TV a lot!”  Tellingly, his was the loudest and most frequent laugh heard during the showing of the film.

The following day, my ILL clerk, who is a course participant, says: “Hey, I wanted to sincerely thank you for the film last night.  I haven’t seen that in ages.  It was good to see it again.  And I am impressed with Blu-Ray!  I have never seen such rich colors in a movie before!  That was somethin’ else!”

Praise, and for such a simple thing like showing a film, and introducing folks to new technology.  This job teaches me in many ways to never, never, ever take my freedom–and all concomitant blessings–for granted.

no place like it

Why we are prison Librarians

[…in which we begin what hopefully will become a regular series of vignettes serving to illustrate why we do what we do.  This 1st vignette is courtesy of the illustrious Velva Hampson, Senior Librarian, CSATF/SP Corcoran].

 

A ‘WHY’ FOR THE DAY

“I’m doing inmate book clubs, and they are a lot of work. Here’s one insight from level 2 GP that makes it all worth the effort.

When discussing Jeannette Walls’ father’s strengths and weaknesses as described in The Glass Castle, one inmate said: “He was there. Every time I talk to my kids on the phone, my son says: ‘You being here is more important than anything you thought you needed to do that got you incarcerated.’”

For the record, the fathers in the group were the ones who couldn’t be judgmental about the parents in that book, because they kept having to compare that to their example of being incarcerated for a large part of their children’s lives.”

*

Which puts me in mind of part of a much earlier post on Bill Cosby’s book Come On, People! On the Path From Victims to Victors:

“As long as fathers keep going to jail, kids will turn to the streets,” Abdul concludes. “Why? Because the father’s not there to watch TV with his kids, the father’s not there to listen to rap music with his kids, the father’s not there to teach the kids why the ‘N-word’ is degrading and hateful and hurtful. Kids miss that male guidance. Nothing can replace that.”

And a Child Shall Lead Them

Now Miguel sits up and raises his hand. All of 23 years old, Miguel grew up in Boston’s south end knowing poverty, racism, crime, a one-parent family, and street life. Since coming to prison, Miguel has turned himself around, parlaying his thug existence for a Boston University degree.  But right now, Abdul has lit a fire under him and he cannot sit still.

“I’ve been listening to people here, especially the OG’s, and I gotta say something to them. Here you sit, your second and third prison terms, a lot of you. Exactly who is raising your children? You talk about how important it is to be there for them, but you’re talking about it while you sit in jail.”

Gregg says, “Hold up, young brother. You don’t know all the facts. Don’t go judging what you don’t know.”

Miguel continues. “You’re here, not there– right or wrong?”

“That’s not the whole story,” Gregg shouts back.

“Right or wrong?”

Gregg sighs and turns his head.

“Kids need that male guidance, “Miguel continues. “They need limits, discipline. They need you at their bedside for that hug and good-night kiss, they need you for answers when life gets too hard, they need you to keep them from running to the streets. They don’t need your jailhouse letters, or copies of your program certificates, or promises over the phone. They need a father, and they need him there, not here. I never knew my father. I know what I’m talking about. I ran to the street because there was no man in my way to say ‘No.’ Now ‘cause my father wasn’t there, here I am sittin’ in jail with you.”

“You were the one who chose the street over your mother and family,” Gregg says. “Nobody shoved you out the door; you went willingly. Shoulder some of that blame, little man. You didn’t suddenly just wake up in a cell not knowing how you got here. You chose this.”

“Definitely. All my friends were doin’ it, so I wanted it, too. But if Pops had been around, maybe I wouldn’t have followed the crowd so easily. You only know what you see. When everyone’s doing it, how can you know it’s wrong?”

Come On, Convicts: On the Cosby Path From Prisoners to Citizens

 

Curses in Captivity #3 — “Have a nice weekend!”

(In which we are tiresomely reminded that, in this culture, Tuesdays have a peculiar, trans-etymological meaning to a certain mindset….)

“The name ‘Tuesday’ derives from the Old English ‘Tiwesdæg’ and literally means ‘Tiw’s Day.’ Tiw is the Old English form of the Proto-Germanc yaic god Tîwaz, or Týr in Norse, a god of war and law.”      

~ from Wikipedia, “The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit!”

This past week, the segregation case worker calls & asks for more typewriter ribbons for the three machines in the segregation law library.  Before the conversation is over, she informs me that she’s leaving early on Friday, has Monday as vacation, and won’t return until the following day.

Like a putz, I say: 

“OK then, I’ll see yoc ya Tuesdayu next Tuesday.”

Laughs aplenty on the other end.

“What?”

“See you next Tuesday.”

“Right.  Isn’t that when you’re coming ba—oh.   OH.  Waitaminute–you’re laughing ’cause you think I called you a c–“

“NO!  I know you didn’t.  You said that in complete innocence, which is why it’s funny!”

“I have never liked that phrase.  This appeals to the same people who, when you say “It’s Wednesday, right?” reply ‘All day long!’ with a big smile on their face, like they just channeled Oscar Wilde.”

“Well, I gotta go.”

“See you next Tuesday!  I just called you a c–“

<CLICK>

The mindset of the average female prison employee.  Why don’t academics do constant studies on us?  Isn’t corrections a psychological mother lode?  They should be crawling all over the place, like cockroaches.  Don’t researchers strike sociological gold when corrections is their topic?  What gives?

Someone oughta have a TWHS page.  Click the comic for full effect.

he said

 

 

“Hope eternal, in the strangest of places”

(In which we are reminded that, in the face of tragedy and disaster, attitude is everything….)

An inmate with throat cancer lives in the same block as one of my class assistants.

The other day, the assistant tells me: “We hide his speech pen all the time.  He larynges penknows to check with me first, because I’m the one who usually has it.”

When the clerk sees that I’m horrified at this, he laughs and explains: “He knows we mean no harm.  It’s the opposite.  We want him to feel normal.  We prank each other all the time.

We’re not gonna let something like cancer or any disease get in the way of life.  What good does it do to weep, or say ‘I’m sorry’?  So we tease.

bitch cancer

 

 

It’s our way of saying “It’s not so serious that we can’t be normal.  You’re gonna make it.”

 

 

Curses in Captivity #2 : “Live FOREVER!”

My ILL clerk is perpetually bugged by my cataloger, because they share space in my Lending Library office and the cataloger’s wit is quick & nasty. 

Whenever the cataloger slings one his way, the ILL clerk says “Keep talking, I hope you live to be 100!  Live forever!” 

eternityThey’re both lifers.  So the one is wishing immortality on the other.  He’s saying, “I hope you suffer in prison for eternity!” 

It’s the only place on the Earth where you can wish someone long life and have it be a curse. 

Laughter Yoga in Prison

(IN WHICH we re-discover that starting a new physical activity in the middle of New England Summer is not the brightest of ideas, and have reinforced for Posterity the time-honored human truism that A Little Bribe Never Hurts….)

 

laughter yoga prison

We did our first laughter yoga session on Tuesday, July 21st.  With surprise and relief, I must admit that it went far better than I had anticipated.  Well, telling them ahead of time that we’d only be doing it for half the night and then they could go served to brighten their spirits.  It was kind of a bribe.  

 

Plus, it was oppressively hot and disconcertingly muggy.  hot hot hotThere’s no A/C in this library, only windows on the west side of the room (with no hope of a cross-breeze), and a wall-mounted fan that at present doesn’t work.  We brought out several table fans from the back office, but like that’s gonna help when you’re jumping around laughing and clapping and spinning and hopping in 90-degree heat & 100% humidity, with the sun streaming in aggressively through giant panes of glass at precisely that hour of the day? 

I am NOT whining; I am simply reporting.    

 

The laughter yoga leader training manual talks about certain personality types you’re apt to find in your session.  One of these is called the Laughter Blaster, the person with the loudest, golaughter blasterofiest, most contagious laugh. Well, we had one, a lifer who’s a huge fantasy buffoon.  He really must have needed to laugh.  I’ve attended laughter yoga sessions in public, and have never seen this kind of naked “let’s DO this!” enthusiasm for the concept.  He was champing at the bit (everyone thinks it’s ‘chomping,’ but everyone is wrong.  It’s ‘champing’) to perform the silliest exercises suggested in the manual.  And I am using the term ‘perform’ accurately. 

 

At one point I read to myself the title of one, the “Kangaroo Dance” and pants downsaid “We have no hope of doing that one.”  This guy says “What?” as if throwing down the gauntlet to the Cosmos.  So I read the exercise description to them.  And the guy starts hopping all over the room and laughing his fool head off.  He hopped so hard, his pants fell down.  I did not need to see that.  Everyone was laughing at his pants.

 

 

acting like an airplane

 

Before this hot, muggy night was through, we had hopped, shouted, giggled, clapped, stretched, laughed silently, and pretended we were airplanes buzzing around the room with our arms out & laughing at each other. We were exhausted. 

 

killjoys

 

Laughter is work.  The Puritans banned it on the Sabbath [citation needed].  And they knew a thing or two about stomping out the natural joy God wired us for, you betcha! [common knowledge]

 

 

 

Them andcalvin those Calvinists.  I think those Calvinists used to pillory people who were found smiling on the Sabbath.  John Calvin, a real barrel of laughs.  What got his knickers in a knot?  There’s someone who needed therapeutic laughter!  I hope he’s in Purgatory now, being shown South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut on an eternal tape loop with his eyes pried open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

ACWO_Ludovico.jpg

 

 

Curses in Captivity #1 — “If he only had a brain!”

Friday afternoon, I’m in the process of locking up a reference cabinet.  At the same time, rather than wait for me to finish and move out of the way, my 6’5″ ILL clerk hook-shots a discarded hard cover into the cardboard box marked ‘Hospital’ which rests directly above where I’m standing about eight feet high on top of this same cabinet.  Luckily, the book sails directly into the box. 

One clerk sees this & says “That would’ve been nice: You miss, it hits Bill, he’s out for a month.” 

My cataloger chimes in “Yeah, but now we’re talking brain damage.  You gotta have a brain to begin with!”

He’s calling his boss brainless, and in his presence.  That’s political suicide.  Which is why they do it.  That’s why it’s funny.  What’s he got to lose?  A dollar-a-day prison job?

About 10 minutes later, the cataloger’s there (doing nothing, BTW) when I again walk into this office for something.  “How you doing?” I ask.  But I’m almost out of the room before it dawns on me to add  “And thanks for calling me an idiot 10 minutes ago, appreciate it.”  We laugh. 

My point is, I was going to just come in, do my thing, and go back to my law library office without comment.  His previous ‘insult’ never phased me.

I say to my bookbinder in passing:

Amazing, how many times we slag each other off without taking offense.  It’s just taken in stride.” 

The bookbinder, who is a very polite, quiet man, smiles as he continues his binding and says, “Sometimes we could do with a little less slagging.”
being slagged off

“Think so?  You’re probably right….Nah.  Just bind your books.”

The bookbinder laughs.  For a polite and quiet man, he has a decidedly boisterous, explosive laugh.  Which I proceed to tell him.  But not in those words.

“Hey, nice laugh.  Keep it to yourself, please.” 

More boisterous laughter.  “I guess there’s no hope of the slagging lessening off!”

“Amen.” 

Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here.

 

‘Escape’ is a bad word

…but it gets your attention.

At least the folks at the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals in London must think so, judging by the title of this interesting March 23, 2015 post about prison Librarians.

“The Great Escape”

 

jonathan-robinson-quote

After the Money’s Gone

(In which we are reminded that All Things Must Pass which, strangely enough, even includes library grant money from the United States government….)

THIRTEEN DAYS AGO, or one day before the grant spending was officially history, I got the OK to spend the remainder of the grant money.  This money represented DVDs & Blu-Ray purchase requests that AEP couldn’t fill by the June 30th deadline.  Having said that: if you don’t currently deal with AEP, you must.  Phenomenal fill rate, people who specialize in government sales, and what they

THESE GUYS KNOW THEIR STUFF.

THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT INEPT.  THEY ARE OUTRAGEOUSLY EPT.

don’t have they drop ship.  Embarrassingly, until this grant experience I never knew what ‘drop ship’ meant.  Someone in our Fiscal office (who’s probably still laughing) schooled me, so now I’m in the know.

 

Advanced Educational Products – GSA

 

 

See this structure?  Isn’t it magnificent?  If only it was ours.  Our location is ugly.  But the people working at our ugly location are personable, competent book-people, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.  Wait–yes you CAN!  Earlier in the

year they also provided lunch on the house, as a thank-you for spending two thousand dollars.  Proving yet again that it’s what inside that counts.  This time, our paltry $281 netted us a paltry 19 titles.  Nineteen.  What is our world coming to?  You kids and your Nooks.

No books on humor-as-therapy were found this time, but among the titles purchased were (3) Bill Watterson Calvin & Hobbes remainders that are probably already delusionstolen as you read these words.  Cartoon collections are hard to keep.  I buy them anyway, in the psychotic belief that soon prison culture will undergo an inexplicable sea-change where inmates who normally steal this stuff begin to return them on or before the stamped due date.  We each of us have our self-delusions.

 

On Friday, we received the titles (all of them, it should be gratefully noted) from the Property Department.  The cataloger/classifier classified & cataloged them before he left at

 

DIGITAL LIBRARY MANAGEMENT, RETRO-STYLE!  HEY--FOR A NEW ENGLAND PRISON, THIS IS ACTUALLY HIP.

DLM, CIRCA 1999. WE’VE USED THIS FOR SO LONG,  IT’S RETRO.

3:30 to begin his weekend.  The circulation clerk created records for them in Circulation Plus.  The bookbinder covered hardcover dust jackets with Mylar.  Then the ILL clerk–who usually launches himself out of the building the moment “Movement!” is called but was still hanging around–took it upon himself to shelve them.

 

 

Easy-ComeEasy-Go

And so, the money’s gone.  This is what we have to show for it:

  • Some pedagogic technology
  • Humor-as-Therapy media to feed it
  • Two program texts (Healing Power of Humor by Allen Klein & HA! The Science of When We Laugh & Why by Scott Weems) @13 copies each
  • Laughter Yoga Leader training and certification
  • A 111-title comedian biography section
  • A 79-title humor-as-therapy section
  • 55 new books for the Humor section

 

And class content for a 12-week course on humorous techniques to apply when zHealing-Humoryou’re feeling stressed out and even when you’re feeling calm.  This Tuesday’s Week Seven topic is ‘Humor, Laughter, and Its Uses in the Correctional Environment.”

 

 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

LoveThyNeighborAsThyself

 

 

 

 

 

When the Department of Correction must decide where to place a prison, most citizens have the NIMBY attitude.  Fred McFeely Rogers–“Mr. Rogers” to you and me–thought of the children, no matter whose rogers5children they were. 

In the 1970’s, Fred Rogers was instrumental in changing how the State Correctional Institution-Pittsburgh approached the nurturing of the children of inmates. 

 

Mr. Rogers and The Children of Prisoners

 

I took my internship in prison library management at this prison in 1985-86.  I remember the resentment of some SCI-P staff over this change that Fred Rogers was able to effect.  Some employees felt that, for the sake of the victims, the children of inmates should suffer along with the inmate. I doubt these folks considered that the children of inmates were suffering. 

Fred Rogers did.

Even now, 30 years later, some staff still feel that, for the sake of the victims of violent crimes, nothing should be done for the inmate, let alone for their children.  Obviously, inroads have been made, and corrections has come a long way.  But crime is emotional. 

Because he lived & recorded his program in my hometown, I grew up watching and listening to Mr. Rogers, never suspecting that our paths would cross– however indirectly–in a prison. 

Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers. March 20, 1928-February 27, 2003.

Considering what the man accomplished, Fred was a force of nature.  The wonder of it is that he’d never agree with that statement.  What he wanted was for those of us listening to realize that we are all of us remarkable, and to live caring, compassionate lives for those who need us.  Fred knew that the kids need us.

Below is a link to an ordinary video, ordinary to all but those who grew up watching the show.  If you watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred’s words will challenge you, convict you, encourage you, and move you.  If you didn’t grow up in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, this will show you the man (with heartfelt thanks to Raymond Dean).

“I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life”