Re-integration and the Grammar Nazis

(In which we find a brief rant about a grammatical pet peeve that only seems to happen in Corrections-Land….)

Doesn’t it frost you when Correctional administrators spell ‘re-integration’ without the hyphen? Mind you, these are educated people.  But they spell the word ‘reintegration.’  What they’re spelling is


as in the word SKEIN .  Or, possibly:


as in the word REINDEER.  or, probably:


like the word STEIN.

The problem is, REEN*tegration, RAIN*tegration, and RINE*tegration are words which do not exist.

Hyphens are important. Add the hyphen, and you get:


Re-integration.  Only the hyphen makes that possible and correct.

reintegration What’s so hard about re-integration?

Actually, we might very well ask that question of the ex-offenders who keep coming back.

They’ll tell you.  Or perhaps they, too, don’t know.

Counting Them Beans: Or, “Can we PLEASE toss these cassettes out?”

Today we start inventory. Because Monday was a Massachusetts holiday called “Patriot’s Day, we get beat out of a day. Poor planning by Yours Truly. At least SOME planning was involved.

We use no portable scanners. Kooky, right? Instead, we take our shelf list drawers to each section of the library, the old-fashioned way. Well, it keeps them off the street. It’s the one time in the year when your staff comes together as a team. It’s an interesting dynamic, seeing inmates from different departments (e.g., bookbinding and cataloging) working toward a common goal. It’s not perfect–what human endeavor is?–and sometimes opinions as to how something should be done leads to flaring tempers. We are, after all, talking about cranky old men here.

But by weeks’ end, the beans’ll be counted accurately, diligently, and relatively peaceably. I’ve never lost an inmate in an inventory to death or dismemberment. I’ve never even had anyone quit. These are good things.


After bean-counting, I have 30 days in which to submit the inventory report. This report usually constitutes 30 pages, half of which comprise statistics from the population law library. Although we don’t need to tally books which have been replaced by the Lexis system, we still need to account for physical equipment, hundreds of legal forms, and what seems on certain days like millions upon millions of regulations, policies, and procedures.

Once more, into the breach….

A BLAST FROM THE DISTANT PAST: OR: “I found it in the attic!”

It’s always the way. You need something, you don’t have it, and the person most likely to possess it apparently doesn’t.

When you visit the website of The U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian (the “how i run my library good”SM letter), you’ll notice that archives are scarce. This is a problem if you’re searching for one of their articles that was published in 1989. 1989 was twenty-four years ago.

But my fortunes turned after contacting the editors through their web site. Not 4520967-2only did they respond, but they discovered the article in a back issue, scanned the pages, converted them to PDF, and emailed them free of charge.  That’s service for you, in the midst of our jaded, cynical, graceless age.

The article I needed was one I had written about my internship at SCI-Pittsburgh called “Of Giraffes, School Buses, and Prison Librarianship: Or, ‘Why did you move hundreds of miles away to buy a car, Bill?’ I remember how this article came about. I wrote the article in 1987, and sent it in to Library Journal. At that time, Brenda Vogel was guest editing an issue on prison librarianship. She called me and said she would use it in a sidebar, but wanted to cut it by more than half. Since it’s barely bigger than a postage stamp to begin with, I demurred. Then I discovered U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D. I submitted it to editor and founder Marvin H. Scilken. I don’t remember receiving a response. Then, in 1988, while attending a New England Library Association conference, I discovered that Marvin happened to be giving a presentation. Afterward I approached him, introduced myself, and asked if he remembered the submission. He thought for a few seconds and then smiled. “That was the giraffe and school bus thing?’ I said yes, and asked him to publish it. He said he would. And he did.

The article link can be found on the Prison Library Links page, and by clicking Of Giraffes, School Buses, and Prison Librarianship

The kind, extraordinary folk running U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D these days are named Paula and Mitch Freedman. Please be kind to them by:

HEALTH IS WEALTH: Or, “I can make Curry Chicken with Rice & Beans better’n anybody in here!”

[In which the Library does its humble part for Health Awareness Month, remembering to change the genuine HP color Inkjet cartridge several times in the process….]

At Norfolk, April has been designated as Health Awareness Month. The Library has been directed to participate by creating a display of health material and health-related posters. We also have contributed 30 health-related DVDS/videos  to the Library cable channel, one health-related film per day for the entire month.

We created the display yesterday evening between 6PM-8:30PM, using 50 books, eight ready-made posters, and 12 health-related  internet images found using Google Images. That’s where the color Inkjet cartridges come in. Well, it takes a lot of ink to create these images, especially when you use Paint to print out nine, 12, or 16 8.5″ x 11″ pages which you then have to trim and tape together to make a decent-sized poster.  The Microsoft Paint program is useful when you need to print out multi-page poster-size images, and we use this each month when it comes time to change the theme in our display cases.

This became one of our centerpieces:

We created (6) displays: Laughter is the Best Medicine,; Sneezes Spread Diseases; Health Around the World; AIDS/HIV Awareness; Men’s Health; and Mental Health Awareness.

These display cases are in the hallway leading past the Lending Library and continuing on to the staircase that takes you to the second floor School Department.

Approximately 300 people will pass these cases in the course of a week. Few will stop and look at what my clerks have created.

But I’ve noticed that the ones who will are also the ones who will stop in the Library and give compliments. Last night, about 5 minutes after we completed the displays, 15 minute movement period was called, and the inmates who were attending classes upstairs were released. One of them came into the Lending Library and said “Bill! Who put that nice display together in the hallway?” I pointed to one of my clerks, the man who creates the displays each month. “Well I just wanted to tell you how nice it makes the hallway look.” We thanked the guy, and he went away.

Years ago, I used to say this was a thankless job. Then, I learned to pay attention to the “Thank-you’s.”

One new aspect of Health Awareness Month for this year is that the Administration is holding a recipe contest. One of my clerks, a latino from Philadelphia, and a cook on the streets, feels more than up to the challenge. “Give me the ingredients I need, and I’ll win that contest hands-down,” he boasts with a smile. “Nothing better than a plate of rice and beans on a cold Spring day. And it’s healthy eating, too.”

A cook-off in jail. This is how corrections chooses to emphasize health awareness in 2012. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Be well.






WONDERS HAVE YET TO CEASE: Or, “Even the losers get lucky sometime”

[In which Life reiterates rather emphatically that you just never, EVER know….]

SERENDIPITY. Noun. — “An assumed gift for finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

I am the last person to claim that I possess such a gift. But you wouldn’t know it, judging by the way today went down.

When I got in, an email was waiting for me by one of the Steward’s staff:

I received your new DVD player. It’s in my office.

I said to a clerk:

“Road trip!”

“Where to?”

“Steward’s office.”

“What are we getting?”

“You’ll see.”

“O boy! Christmas!”

Inmates like going places with you. It serves to break the moe-noe-toe-knee. Because most of our libraries are one-professional shows, it’s equally good for the Librarian to get out and give the limbs a good stretching occasionally.

We get to the Steward’s office, a quarter-mile away in the Administration Building, 3rd floor. I report to the requisite office, and say, “We’re here to pick up our DVD player.”

My clerk says “It came in!” He says this with surprise and enthusiasm, because this marks the fourth (4th) time I have attempted to get this player inside this here prison in about six months. Here’s what happened the last three times:

  • I ordered a Sony player from Highsmith. They called a few weeks later saying that their distributor no longer carried that model. All they had by way of replacement was a boom box. I asked them to refund the money. The refund came about two weeks later.
  • A month after that, I took a state check to a Sony outlet. I brought the player to the counter and presented the check. The check was refused. “This is a debit card/cash business, Sir. I’m sorry.” The young lady went on to explain that they couldn’t even accept cashier’s checks.
  • Two months later, I found a good deal at a local Best Buy. I called ahead to make certain that they accepted state checks (they did). I brought out the check, took the purchase to the counter, and then discovered that the item was on sale. This was a problem, I was told, because the check was made out for the pre-sale price, and their system could not issue change on a check.

Sony dvd

Madness. I finally wrote the Superintendent a letter that chronicled this mess, and asked him to give me the cash to buy the player at the Sony outlet. Instead, he directed the Treasurer’s office to order the player from a different source.

So, here we were, picking up a portable DVD player that’s taken seven (7) months to buy. Ain’t life grand? The funniest part of this saga is that we bought the thing to show ABLE MINDS students the LOTR trilogy. Now that the prison has given the Library its own cable channel, we no longer need it for that. ¡Caramba!

We have of course found an alternate use for the thing, which is using it to play the legal DVDs of trials and administrative hearings sent to inmates by the courts. So all’s well that ends well.

Not only that — when we reach the Steward’s office, she thinks we’re there for an entirely different reason and produces the $1,500 check for the Shire Book Shop, the check we’ve waited three-and-one-half months for.

So today was our day, for once. I mean twice.

MANNA OVERBOARD: Or, “Who buys a VCR in the New Millennium?”

[In which your Beleaguered Instructor proves that he’s just bright enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth….]

My memory is shot. Nothing left. At all. How I think to post to this blog is anyone’s guess. How I know i HAVE a blog is even curiouser.

Today, I stopped by BSCC prison to pick up a donation of video tapes. These tapes were acquired through the previous BSCC Librarian, now retired. The arrangement was that A.D., the new librarian, was to meet me in the lobby at 1PM. Well, she didn’t. When she finally appeared, I found out why. I was a day early — which she promptly announced to every officer within earshot.

Thanks a bunch, A.D. Way to embarrass a future Alzheimer’s sufferer in front of his peers. And here EYE’m supposed to be the classless one     ;o)

But the donation was a pleasant surprise. A few days ago, A.D. said she needed to get rid of her remaining videos, mainly because they no longer had a VCR, weren’t gonna buy no VCR, and anyway they have DVDs and PlayAways aplenty. Her guess was that the tapes numbered “around forty or so.” Correction: there’re around ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY or so. So it turns out that I can’t tell time, and A.D can’t count. Perhaps this is why we’re both people-persons?

Of course, while transporting the three boxes of tapes from the Library to my car on a flatbed dolly, I made the mistake of complaining about the flattened disk in my lower back (it was rainy and humid, so sue me). A.D., who is by nature kind and considerate, started treating me with a kind of motherly solicitude, in the manner of a 1st-grade teacher caring for a child with a bloody nose. There’s a certain condescending singsong lilt to the tone of a young lady’s voice when dealing with a man twice her age; I’m suffering that lilt more and more these days, AND IT SUCKS. When A.D. broke out ‘the lilt,’ I concluded No matter how many times I hear that, IT WILL ALWAYS SUCK.

The tapes are now in the Bundle Room awaiting the requisite paper work to enter Norfolk. Before I left these boxes with the Bundle Room officer, we discovered several tapes that needed to be removed before the boxes could be approved to be sent inside. Because of a contract the Department signs with the vendor who supplies our prisons with films, we’re not allowed to offer the inmates anything approaching entertainment in their libraries. So out went Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, Big Trouble in Little China, the Marx Bros.’s A Night at the Opera, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Buster Keaton’s The General, a New England Patriot’s Super Bowl tape, and an Amos & Andy episode.

videotape pile

The question is — what was the previous Librarian doing with entertainment videos? By policy, she wasn’t allowed to have them, and she knew it. Do you get the feeling that DOC employees sometimes break the rules? Well, they do. And Librarians aren’t immune to this temptation.

FOR THE RECORD — You shouldn’t break the rules. Seriously. Because the consequences are bad if you do.

The tape that really flummoxed me was the Amos & Andy episode. Amos & Andy? What was she trying to do, start a riot?

We also removed two Bugs Bunny tapes. Understand: I have nothing whatsoever against Bugs Bunny. Like the Three Stooges, Bugs has helped pull me through five (5) decades with some of my sanity still intact. But how in the Wide World of Sports did this Librarian get these things in the library? I’ve got a tremendous amount of chutzpah, but even I can’t imagine smuggling Bugs Bunny cartoons into an adult male medium-security prison. (BTW — Bugs came home with me, where I’ll watch him with the kids. The prisoners can be content with Nova and the Discovery Channel and PBS and National Geographic specials).

I still can’t believe my staff and I are excited to be given another slew of video tapes in a span of 10 days. VIDEO TAPES, for cryin’ out loud, 60 years after their invention. It’s just wrong. But these things will see steady use. Beggars/choosers, and all that.

Thanks, A.D., for your beneficence. But stop it already with the lilt.

“HURRY UP AND WAIT!” Or, The best-laid plans of Librarians and Men

[In which we collectively witness the gears of the Machine grind, mesh, and grind again, and always slowly…Ever so slowly….]

State workers, man. From east to west and from age to age, you gotta admit — they’re consistent.

Back in August, I submitted a purchase request through my boss and then through her boss to buy $1,500 worth of books from the Shire Book Shop in Franklin, MA. August is over three months in the past.

A few days ago, I receive an email entitled ‘SHIRE’ from our Steward, notifying me that the Shire money had been approved. This is happy news because in our Department, purchases over $1,000 must first be approved by the prison Superintendent and then by the Commissioner of Correction. As you might imagine, this process takes several weeks to play out.

Picking up the phone, I call to the clerks within shouting distance, “Hey, we’re going to the Shire!” General cheers from their various stations. Library clerks are happy at the prospect of new books. So are library patrons. So is the Librarian.

I phone the Steward to ask when I can pick up the check. She says:

“I lied to you. The request hasn’t been approved yet.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“I found it on my desk and thought that the Commissioner had approved it. But only the Superintendent has said ‘Yes.’ I forgot to send it downtown.”

“I see. Well, please do so. I started this in August, hoping to make the purchase by Thanksgiving.”

And that was that. Notice the Steward never offers an apology. I’m thinking that an apology was appropriate, for I was led to believe that all we’ve been waiting for was the decision of the Commissioner. Turns out he hasn’t even seen the request yet and doesn’t even know that it exists.

This is particularly annoying for another reason. In October, after not hearing anything for two months, I called the Steward to see where the request was in the process. I discovered that although she received the Superintendent’s approval, she hadn’t filled out the paper work that needed to go to the Commissioner’s office. In fact, she started doing so while she had me on the phone.

Ave Maria!


For the past five years, it’s tradition that I complete a major book purchase by Thanksgiving. This year, the Commissioner may not make a decision until after the New Year.

It’s typical. And it figures. But just because I expect it doesn’t lessen my frustration. Nor for my clerks, a few of whom have little to do until a donation or a book purchase arrives for them to classify, catalog, stamp, enter into the computer, fashion with a Mylar dust jacket cover, and place out on the shelves. One of the pragmatic uses of a prison library is a little game called Keep Library Clerks Busy. The greatest enemy to prison peace and good order is boredom. Inmates are proud of their library work and enthusiastic about getting a load of fresh reading material out to the population. It stinks to have to disappoint them. Not that they’re not used to disappointment. And not that they should be coddled. But they need gainful, interesting employment. Book buys help fill the bill.

Ah, well! This Thanksgiving, instead of showing gratitude for our bounty and the beneficence of the Commonwealth, we’ll give thanks that the prison still has a library that the inmates use constantly and do not take for granted.

Lemons into lemonade. And we have professional incompetence to thank for it!

“I never know what’s going on,” said Charlie Brown: Or, LIBRARIANSHIP FOR THE WALKING DEAD

[In which Your Beleaguered Instructor engages his library staff and discovers an April Fool….]

Today we took down the April books and posters out of the three hallway display cabinets. Later on, the 37 books will need to be checked in and re-shelved.

In the center cabinet, we secured a lovely 3-foot poster that I found online, with the Hirschfeld caricatures of WC Fields, Groucho Marx, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin.  No one taking the time to glance toward this side of the hallway could possibly miss seeing this poster and the images of the comedians depicted on it.

Keep in mind: this display has been in the cabinets for a full five weeks. The three display windows are large, taking up three-quarters of a 20-foot hallway wall. As a library clerk, to have visited the library five days a week for five consecutive weeks, AND to have missed seeing this large poster as the centerpiece of this very colorful display, you’d need to be aggressively brain-dead oblivious to your surroundings. Also consider that there is nothing but brick wall on the opposite side of the hallway; in other words, nothing there to distract your attention from the colorful, easy-to-see books and posters in this 15-foot display.

Back in my Lending Library office, I happen to unfurl the Comedians poster. My ILL clerk ‘Narc,’ while sitting at his work desk, sees this unfurled poster, and his eyes light up. “Hey!” he smiles, “WC Fields!”

Understand further: Narc is a comedian aficionado. He follows comedians. He reads about comedians. He talks about comedians. He even alerts me when a comedian dies, because he collects their obituaries out of the daily newspaper. And he has a well-developed sense of humor which he unabashedly displays during the work day. He has, however, built, from the ground up, a reputation for not being aware of his surroundings; at times, aggressively unaware. You might even categorize it as brain-dead oblivious.


I say again: the library display is fifteen feet long, behind clear Plexiglas, quite colorful, sporting a three-foot poster of comedians, and has been displayed for 35 consecutive days for all to see.

Understand something else: Although this man’s eyesight is a step above total blindness, he has been blessed with corrective lenses, the strength and thickness of which permits him to discern the black heads on the face of the Man In The Moon. In a fog. Through city lights. At night. In a pelting rain.

Imagine my disbelief and confusion when I realize that during those 35 days, this man managed never to turn his head once to the left while walking down the hallway and into the Lending Library, nor did he turn his head to the right while walking down that 30-foot hallway on his way out of the building. Not once. He may as well have been a myopic plow-horse with blinders on.

I say to him: “Do you mean you didn’t see this poster in the display case?”

“What display case?”

“The display case that’s had this poster in it for the last five weeks.”



“I never think to look there.”

“What do you look at when you’re walking down the hallway?”

“My feet.”

“What’s so fascinating about your feet?”

“I just don’t look around, that’s all. Jeesh, what did I do, commit a crime? You can’t send me to jail, I’m already there!”

I am frightened by this man. I am frightened for this man. I would pray for him, but God Himself probably would reject the entreaty as a damnable waste of His time.

I do not know this. It’s just a feeling I have.

“To tell you the truth, I never looked!” Or: THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE OF IGNORANCE

Interlibrary loan clerk ‘Narc’ Moocher is a head case, not least of which because the eyes in his head are barely usable, requiring his constant use of thick-lensed glasses which are rumored to have been manufactured in the same optical plant as Mr. Hubble’s orbiting telescope.

Narc’s mind – if one may take that liberty – engages the world in a decidedly literal light. His operating credo for the whole of Creation and its creatures is this single, irreducible principle: ‘A thing must be black, or it must be white.’

Paradoxically, he is a man of keen thought and insight, often catching nuances in people and situations which elude mere mortals. This is why it’s curious to the point of irritation that frequently he’s capable of missing The Painfully and Mind-Bogglingly Obvious.

Narc has worked in the Norfolk library for eight years (in prison terms read: “Since the dawn of recorded history”). Eight years is a generous enough stretch to learn about certain library truisms, such as:

  • • Shelf list cards stick together during Inventory
  • • Patrons rarely know what they need
  • • When looking up the title of any library material, always truncate the lead preposition (e.g., A, An, and The)

The observable Universe has conspired against Narc in this regard, for certain of these facts have managed to escape his powers of apprehension, retention, or both. To wit: on this cold, sunny day, we are in my Lending Library office discussing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We get stumped trying to name all the lead male actors. Narc, sitting at his work desk, reaches for an out-dated copy of the Videohound Golden Movie Retriever and says, “I’ll find it.”

We continue talking. Minutes pass. Narc’s still looking. Narc appears to be floundering in this book, whose entries are arranged alphabetically. I also notice that, rather than searching toward the front of the book, he’s somewhere toward the back. I sidle over to him: “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not in here.”
“Of course it’s in there. It’s a world-famous movie.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, it’s not where it’s supposed to be.”
I look over his shoulder at the page he’s on. I see the entry Thelma and Louise. “Narc, you’re in the T’s.”
“I know.”
“You should be in the G’s.” Some clerks stop talking and turn toward us.
“No. I’m lookin’ for the title.”

The horror of what’s happening strikes me.

“The title begins with ‘G’,” I say softly.
“No, it doesn’t. It starts with ‘T’.” Utter silence in the room.
“You’re looking under ‘The’?”

The other clerks hear this. The other clerks laugh. The other clerks laugh a boisterous, derisive laughter of which we’re assured Hell is filled. Some clerks laugh until tears stream down their pained, weathered faces. I’m laughing, too.

Even Narc smiles. “Yeah, keep laughin’, you fuckin jerks.” More laughter. “It’s the first word of the title! Go blow yourselves!” This sets us off again.

Steven, my typewriter clerk–-This years’ hands-down winner of the library’s “Little Sammy Sunshine” award-–points an accusatory finger at me and shouts, “This is your fault, ‘cause you hired him!” Jailhouse logic is, at once, bemusing and tiresome.

While this gale of unholy merriment at another’s expense continues, I explain to Narc how many book, play, and movie titles begin with A, An, and The, and the necessity for truncation. Narc says he never knew this, and I feel bad that it never occurred to me that he needed to be told. My first impression (How stupid can he be?) has now tempered to compassion (Not everyone knows the same things), and I realize that I’m just as much an intellectual snob as these other chuckle-heads in the room. It’s a self-revelatory moment that I’d do well to heed.

Of course, someone mentions ‘The’ at least once a week; sometimes, twice a day. It’s not fair. In addition, it’s juvenile, immature, and mean. And that’s why it’s funny.

And these days, Narc joins in the laughter. Narc’s sense of humor pivots on the self-deprecatory, smacking himself down before the world can land one, a kind of emotional self-preservation that has stood him in good stead for many many incarcerated moons.

But we’ll still bust his balls about this. Probably forever. I think of it as “THE CASE OF THE PERILOUS PREPOSITION.”

File under: ‘The.’

GRIST FOR THE BLOGGING MILL: Or, “Hold your tongue with both hands”

Narc, our intrepid interlibrary loan clerk, found himself in a discussion with a patron over which date to place on the date due card. The patron said it should be the date that the book is due. Narc said it should be today’s date. This I couldn’t believe.

I asked him:

“How many years have you worked for the library? Ten? Twelve?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Narc, what is this card called?” The card is clearly marked DATE DUE.

“The sign-out card.”

“Close enough. How long can patrons have a book for?”

“Two weeks.”

“Correct. You mark down the date that the book is due, which is two weeks from today.”

“No. You mark down the date the guy took it out.”

“Narc, listen. Your patron is right.  The card isn’t called THE DATE THE GUY TOOK IT OUT card. It’s called a DATE DUE card. You write the date the book is due, so you know when it’s supposed to come back. Why do you think you need to record the date the book was signed out?”

“You said to.”

“I never told you that!”

“Yes, you did.”



“You’re hallucinating actively. Please take your meds. Lose this cockamamie notion and record the due date on these cards from now on.”


The other clerks are laughing. Mark says: “Yeah, keep laughin’, assholes. You’ll be next in that goddamn blog of his.” They know I write a blog, because I’ve told them.

Names have been changed, to protect the adjudicated. Although why we SHOULD protect them is way beyond me. But I’ll hold my tongue.