A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: OR, “Why is ‘God’s Middle Finger’ in Religion?”

We closed the Reference Room because of a project that should’ve been done decades ago. It has to do with sets. I like to keep sets together. It’s stupid, it’s anal -retentive, and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans because, as any Librarian knows, patrons don’t use sets anyway. But we have over 20 sets in this Reference Room of ours and, for no good reason, we’ve kept them separate from the other material:

  • The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences
  • Gale Directory of Medicine
  • Gale Directory of Science
  • Encyclopedia of Physics
  • Encyclopedic Dictionary of American History
  • American Heritage Encyclopedia of Art and Artists
  • Encyclopedia of World Finance
  • History of Greek Philosophers
  • Encyclopedia of Africa
  • Encyclopedia of World Biography
  • Countries of the World
  • English Matters!
  • United States Government/Constitution Series
  • Durant’s History of Civilization
  • Enciclopedia Cumbre
  • Gran Enciclopedia Planeta
  • Ethics and Values
  • Columbia Encyclopedia of World History
  • Encyclopedia of World Events
  • Peoples of the World
  • Encyclopedia of Popular Music

Today, I announced to the cataloger and classifier “Today, gentlemen, we will re-work that room to include sets in their proper places.” Here are just some of the comments I heard:

  • “Thank God! You must’ve grown a brain overnight, huh?”
  • “It’s about time! Now I don’t have to go nuts when we do Inventory!”
  • “Think we’ll actually be able to FIND something now?”

For me, the most amusing thing that happened during the re-organization is that, as shelf space was created for a particular set, the clerks often couldn’t bear to split the books between shelves. They were bending over backward trying to keep the volumes together! I fanned the flames a bit:

“See! You’re as bad as EYE am! Not so easy, is it?”

“But they just don’t look right when the set’s busted up like that!” Which elicited this comment from the cataloging room:

“F*ck what they look like! Put’em where they belong!”

We started around 1:10PM. At 3PM, we unveiled our new Reference Room arrangement to an unsuspecting public. The most common overheard comment was:

“Now I can’t find anything!”

Conventional wisdom says you can’t please everyone. But folks who deal with people are a tad more realistic and see the thing in this light: You can’t please anyone.

But in this case, it’s not true. The cataloger and classifier are both well-pleased. And even my anal-retentive nature is sated. Now if I can just figure out how to make room for those last two volumes on the same shelf, I can keep this set together.

Well, I’ll just have to discard something….
reference sets

‘Protect me from another saucy wit!’ Or, The Prison Library courtesy of TWSS.com

[In which the un-PC bandying of words results, as usual, in some delightful and mentally healthful silliness….]

Rape. One of the worst things imaginable.

Rape in prison. One of the most serious correctional management problems of the New Millennium. Prisoner-on-prisoner rape is no joke. Which is why prisoners make rape jokes all the time.

When one prisoner is annoying another by constant verbal baiting, a third prisoner who’s observing will often say to the annoyance: “I’m not pulling him off you.” Meaning, of course, “If he kicks your ass, you deserve it.” It’s a warning to the joker to consider the consequences.


“If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.”

— Chinese Proverb


One of my Lending Library workers cultivates a sexually-charged sense of humor.  Very little can be said in his hearing that he is not compelled to make into a sexual reference. Sexual innuendo is his nature, his creed, perhaps his raison d’etre. He cannot help himself, and wouldn’t even if he could.

Yesterday, one of the Lending Library clerks — a consummate ball-buster who mans the circulation desk — is baiting another clerk who’s trying to get some cataloging work done at the computer. The clerk who’s working is obviously annoyed, and warns the man to cut it out. The ball-buster smiles and continues the unwanted teasing. Two other clerks are observing this from their work desks, one of them being Mr. Innuendo. Observer #1 says to the annoyance:

“I’m not pullin’ him off of you!”

To which Innuendo adds, “And I’m not pullin’ him out of you!”

I say to him: “Don’t you have anything to do?”

He smiles and replies: “I’m doin’ my job! I’m a cunning linguist!”

“Funny, you were hired as a typewriter clerk. But all we get from you is sexual innuendo.”

To which the ball-buster replies, “Yeah, but with him, it’s more like ‘In-your-end, oh!’ ”


I didn’t pull them off of him.

IT’S ‘THE CRAP WE CAN’T GET RID OF’ SALE! Or, When the Public Library says “Jump!” you ask “How high?”

[In which it is driven home for the umpteenth time how, even in our Noble Profession, beggars must never be choosers….]



Yesterday I retrieved a voice mail from my local public library essentially saying, ‘Come get the leftovers from the book sale we just had.’ As every correctional Librarian knows, that’s a good deal. You’re not gonna get many keepers, but you’ll get enough stuff for your segregation and hospital Units to keep those inmates quiet for a few weeks. Since it’s good to keep these inmates constructively occupied, these kinds of donations are worth the time and effort.

I visited the library, spoke with the Director and thanked her for remembering us, then took away (3) boxes of reference/textbooks and a slew of unwanted paperback novels — the flotsam and jetsam of every three-day Friends of the Library book sale.

Now these books will be dropped off in the Mail Room and there they will sit for at least a week, while I complete & submit the requisite Authorization To Enter, patiently wait for the Deputy’s signature, and finally for the Mail Truck to get them inside.





Remember too that these books are subject to the same Department scrutiny as purchased material for the Lending Library, based on the language of “Security of Library Material” which is the December 2011 addendum to the Norfolk Procedural Statement relative to 103 CMR 478 “Library Services.” Using this language, any Mail Officer can object to any book in this donation and bring it to the attention of Security, even though the donation will have prior approval to enter.


Why? Well, the prior approval from the Deputy is an OK in substance to accept Lending Library material. Since she has no personal knowledge of what’s in the donation, her approval represents an agreement to accept the donation from a reputable source. Her approval also represents a vote of confidence that her Librarian has reviewed the material and confirms that it is in concert with the procedural language of the addendum.

But what happens when the Librarian makes a mistake? Enter the Mail Officer. S/he’s there representing the security side of prison operations, and sometimes is aware of events or other policy language of which the Librarian is not privy. Sometimes the Librarian reviews donated material along with the Mail Officer, and learns first-hand from the Officer what can’t come in and why.




Even with this scrutiny, something eventually slips past the safety nets. This often happens because of consistency–in other words, it’s not always the same Mail officers making these decisions. Sometimes the regular officers are ‘pulled’ to different areas of the prison, and replaced by other officers temporarily assigned to the Mail Room, officers who may not know the mail regulations as well as they need to.

So what if, down the road, an Administrator tells the Librarian that there’s something in the

Library that shouldn’t be there? Does the Librarian then argue “But the Mail Officers let it in here”? No. The Librarian removes the item. Contraband is contraband, and doesn’t magically become acceptable because it was mistakenly allowed in. That’s the logic of scoundrels, and also of the immature mind. “They let it in here, so I should be allowed to keep it!” It’s tiring, and tiresome.


We should receive the (3) boxes of donated material probably by the end of next week.

Thank God for Friends of the Library Three-Day book sales.


[In which we finally get to put the population on notice that, once again, there are new books to be had in the Lending Library….]

Last night, we created a “Just Arrived!” and “New Library Books” display in the (6) display cabinets in the lobby of the Norfolk School Building. We’re advertising the books that were purchased at NE Mobile Book Fair a few weeks ago.

From a random sampling of about 70 books, we photocopied their covers onto brightly-colored paper, and then taped these pages onto the Plexiglas panes of each display cabinet. I wanted each cabinet to have a display theme (Sports, Self-Help, Recovery, Humor, Fiction), but I failed to communicate this in time to my clerk, and by the time I got out in the hallway, the display cabinets were an explosion of pretty oranges and yellows and greens and reds and blues and all like that. That’s a lot of tape and a lot of effort, so I had to leave it.

It’s difficult getting photos taken of these cases. Camera ownership is necessarily limited inside. Camera use is limited to security staff only, which means the Library is not permitted to have one. When you want photos of your new display cabinets, you’re at the mercy and mood of whoever is available at the time. I do not have photos of the current display, but here are photos of a previous one:

While the new display was going up, I noticed an inmate in the hallway checking out the new book postings. He’d just returned from the bathroom at the end of the hall, was on his way to the School upstairs, and just stopped a minute to take a look. I went over to him. He pointed at one of the self-help books and said, “I’d like to get that.” I told him it was available in the Self-Help section, and he said he’d check it out when his class was over.

As he walked away, I glanced over to the Library clerk who was finishing up the displays, who glanced over at me with a smile.


Every so often, someone notices what the Library does for them.

‘Gratifying’ I believe is the word here….


[In which, armed with the filthy lucre of the taxpaying citizenry, we continue our mandate to socialize, rehabilitate, and otherwise prepare the incorrigible & recalcitrant for a free life of conformity and Squaresville….]


“Watch your language! Hold your tongue!”
Language Instruction DVDs, CDs, and VHS/cassette tapes are very popular for this inmate population. We keep monthly stats on what is used, how frequently it’s used, and in what medium it’s delivered. Surprisingly, not only are the cassettes still holding up, but inmates choose more of them over any other medium. But these days, for obvious reasons, purchases are confined to CD/DVD. This time, I find the following:

Barron’s Learn Spanish (4 CD)
Barron’s Learn French (4 CD)
Barron’s Learn German (4 CD)
Barron’s Learn Italian (4 CD)
Flash Forward Spanish Vocabulary (CD)
Flash Forward French Vocabulary (CD)
Pun Also Rises, The: How The Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, And Made Wordplay More Than Just Some Antics

Although we already own intermediate and advanced lessons on CD, it’s the beginner stuff on tape that we’ve needed to replace. These purchases now allow us to do that. It’s a great day for our Watch Your Language/ Hold Your Tongue program. The pun book will be added to the floor collection, where we have about 50 books on linguistics and wordplay. And since language instruction is mentioned in our 25% materials mandate, we’re on our way to 30% of the total purchase. And that’s good.

Health is Wealth, Especially in the Poky

Although to a large extent the type of health treatment which inmates receive is regulated by the State, inmates have some autonomy over their own health. And in some Departments, certain health information is not permitted to be offered through the Lending Library. We have never been permitted to offer the DSM, for example. And Gray’s Anatomy is also not permitted, in light of an attack at another prison where the perpetrator, when interviewed, admitted to finding information from this text in the Library that helped him commit the assault. So when it comes to health-related information, there may be specific security concerns of your Administration of which you must be aware.

Beyond the orderly running of the prison, health information is offered and prisoners do seek it out. Needless to say (but perhaps not), I buy as much as I can which is specific to the men in my population. This is what I find in both retail and remainder sections:

Dr. Katz’s GT Prostate Health
Men’s Health Big Book Of Food & Nutrition
Why Men Die First: HT Lengthen Your Lifespan
Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Stress Management
Alzheimer’s Disease: Guide For Families And Caregivers
Crohn’s Disease And Ulcerative Colitis
Migraine Brains & Bodies
Good Health For African-Americans
Why Women Live Longer Than Men
Viagra & The Quest For Potency
Every Heart Attack Is Preventable
Men’s Club: HT Lose Your Prostate Without Losing Your Sense Of Humor
Hepatitis C Help Book
Men’s Health GT Peak Conditioning
Banish Your Belly: Ultimate Guide For Achieving A Lean, Strong Body Now
Curing Multiple Sclerosis

I know inmates who suffer with both IBS and migraines, so I seek out this material. Hepatitis C affects the lives of many incarcerated people, so I try updating our holdings for that material. One of my long-time law library patrons has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, so I found something for him….In preparation for this book trip, I took a look at our existing health holdings, and was shocked to find only about 125 titles. I thought there should have been at least a few shelves more. When I mentioned this to one of my circulation clerks, he smiled and said, “Bill, there’s stuff that goes on here that you don’t know about. Guys find a health book that can help them, and they keep it. I don’t agree with that, in fact I think it’s a dirt-bag thing to do, because then someone else can’t use it. But that’s the reality here.”

I’ve often wondered if health material, when offered through the correctional Library, should be considered part of the Self-Help genre? I’m just sayin’.



“What the hell does E=MC squared mean, anyway?” the con asked unabashedly for everyone in the correctional Library to hear….

Because Librarian internet usage is limited to legal research questions (due to something that happened about a year ago related to security) — we don’t have access to current journal articles. The Library is limited to the currency of the science information it can offer, as we can only rely on books and DVDs. Currently we have about (6) shelves of science books, but it’s been a while since I got a large infusion of titles. I decide that this needs to be rectified:

For The Love Of Physics
Mathematical Games & HT Play Them
Evolution Isn’t What It Used To Be
Genesis: What Does It Mean To Be Human?
(actually, this is fiction, but I found it with their science books, which means they also thought it was nonfiction, which means we were both fooled….)
Garden Of Unearthly Delights: Bioengineering & The Future Of Food
Geek Logik: 50 Foolproof Equations For Everyday Life
Inside The Human Genome
How Far Is Up? Measuring The Size Of The Universe
Astro Turf: The Private Life Of Rocket Science
Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering And Cloning Will Transform The American Family
Weighing The Soul: Scientific Discovery From The Brilliant To The Bizarre
Genethics: The Clash Between The New Genetics And Human Values
Math Doesn’t Suck
Separate Creation: Biological Origins Of Sexual Orientation
Fly: The Unsung Hero Of 20th Century Science
Brief History Of Time: A Reader Companion
Hubble Space Telescope
Night Sky Identifiers
Friendly GT The Universe
Unnatural Selection: Promise & Power Of Human Gene Research
How Life Begins
Do Fish Feel Pain?
Annus Mirabiliis: 1905, Albert Einstein, And The Theory Of Relativity (W/DVD)

Most of these are remainder titles, mainly because remainders stretch that budget, but also because I got 0 title requests for this material this time out which, BTW, is odd. I’ve learned that our population’s intellectual curiosity weighs in heavily with all forms of math, physics, astronomy, and current science trends like cloning, the human genome project and its implications, bioengineering and bioethics, Frankenfood, and the creationism/ Darwinism debate. Science books are stolen with something approaching regularity which, at once, is a testament to their incorrigible ways AND to my impeccable and well-informed tastes in science matters (probably a lot less of one and a little more of the other….)



“I know it says ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN FROM THE LIBRARY,’ but can I have it for a week?”

When the Lending Librarian retired in 1994, I was suddenly handed the responsibility of supervising that Library, the law Library, the segregation law Library, and the libraries in the Hospital Services Unit. Accordingly, I noticed (but I won’t tell you how long it took) that I couldn’t be everywhere at once. I had to decide and quickly what I was going to do about the Reference Room collection, as inmates were stealing from it left and right. I decided to make the collection circulating; it was either that or risk losing a nicely-built collection of useful titles. Also, we expanded the subjects that we keep in the former Librarians’ locked “PC Reference Cabinet” (it actually stands for ‘Protective custody,’ but we tell people that it means ‘Padlocked cabinet’….) These are the reference titles that piqued my interest:

Billboard Book Of Top 40 Hits
Love That Dirty Water! The Standells and the Improbable Red Sox Victory Anthem
Book Of African-American Quotations
Great Speeches On Gay Rights
Great Speeches By African-Americans
Rights Of Man (Thomas Paine)
Six Great Dialogues (Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, The Republic)
Complete Idiot’s GT Starting Your Own Business
Videohound Golden Movie Retriever 2012
Leonard Maltin’s 2012 Movie Guide

I say “…piqued my interest” but, of course, that interest is necessarily tempered by the information requests of Library users. We have many musicians hanging around the place (including Your Beleaguered Instructor), so the song guides and directories see tons of use, especially our Billboard Book of Top Pop Singles by the illustrious and prolific Joel Whitburn. Movie fanatics abound, too, so we have every English-language movie guide imaginable (just not updated at the same time, alas….) We also nurture a kind of fetish for quotation books; at present, the collection numbers 43 and growing. Well, we’re rarely stumped by the “Who was it who said….?” query. Small business start-up guides are extremely popular. Not sure why? But I have some theories! Between the oversize reference shelf, PC cabinet, Ready Reference cabinet, Reference Room, and BIP/encyclopedia wall, we have about 1,300 reference books, not including Spanish-language references (100) and reference on other media (100). Not bad for such a small space, and considering that we’re limited mostly to books.




“God brought me to jail and said ‘Now do I have your attention?’”

Some inmates are believers. They fight for their right to practice their faith as they see fit. Could some of this righteousness be disingenuous and deceptive? Probably. But my impression is that people who seek out religious and faith information in prison do so from a genuine desire to know and apply. This impression comes from observing the material they seek, the interlibrary loans they request, the purchase requests they make, and the reference questions they ask. This impression also comes from the discussions I’ve had with inmates in my office or out on the Library floor. The Library has about 200 books, DVDs, and VHS on the major faith systems.

Why Can’t We Be Good?
Confessions Of St. Augustine
Varieties Of Religious Experience
CS Lewis Signature Classics (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem Of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed, The Abolition Of Man)
Prayer For People Who Think Too Much: A GT Everyday, Anywhere Prayer From The World’s Faith Traditions
Touched By God: Black Gospel Greats Share Their Stories About Finding God

For inmates who reject faith, you provide contemporary atheist nonfiction, fiction, and books/DVDs presenting the omnipresent(!) Creationism/Darwin debates. It impresses me that atheism is a type of faith or belief, and it’s interesting that in the Dewey scheme (yes, we use Dewey, sue us) atheism is classed under 291. New books in this vein include:

God & The New Physics
Mind Of God, The: Scientific Basis For A Rational World

36 arguments for the existence of God
Rock Of Ages: Science & Religion In The Fullness Of Life

I also bought Darwin’s Sacred Cause and was tempted to include it here, but it belongs elsewhere. Perhaps with biographies, memoir, and autobiography:

Autobiography Of Mark Twain (Volume One)
Memories Of John Lennon
Jeannie Out Of The Bottle
Finding It: And Satisfying My Hunger For Life Without Opening The Fridge
Gladys Knight: Between Each Line Of Pain & Glory
Rickles’ Book
Bedwetter: Stories Of Courage, Redemption, & Pee
Tracy Morgan: I Am The New Black
Darwin’s Sacred Cause

…And my newest favorite title (I’m a title buyer): Another Bullshit Night In Suck City



The remainder of the book buy breaks down into sports:
Knuckler (memoir of a former Red Sox pitcher)
Ones Who Hit Hardest, The
100 Things Patriots Fans Should Know

…and poetry:
Blake’s Selected Poems
Contemporary Irish Poetry
Best American Poetry 2010
Catching Life By The Throat: HT Read A Poem And Why


Next, we’ll talk about picking up the books, getting them to the prison, getting them inside, getting them processed, getting them on the shelves, and getting them ‘advertised.’

I’M SPENDING YOUR MONEY: OR, “Bring me back some escape fiction!” he said with a wink

[In which we negotiate another materials purchase courtesy of the Governor, and try not to contribute to the further delinquency & depravity of the Hardened Criminal….]


Christmas! (but with a Caveat)

Our Libraries here have friends in high places, notably from the Department’s Education Division, where no less than the Director of Inmate Education and Training and the Assistant Director both have a genuine love for libraries and a respect for their power and majesty. Whenever possible (usually once a year), Education bestows a few grand on each of the Libraries in our system.

The caveat is that  approximately 25% of that money should go to careers & jobs, Spanish-language, large-print, re-entry/reintegration, and language instruction material.

This time, we have $1,700 to do with as we choose, so long as we keep to the 25% caveat above, and so long as the material is in concert with legitimate penological objectives. Because I work for Norfolk, I have the additional restriction and responsibility of ensuring that the material is in concert with the policy language found in the December 1, 2011 addendum to the Norfolk Procedures relating to 103 Code of Massachusetts Regulation 478, “Library Services.” Piece of cake.

SPOILER ALERT: We end up buying 152 books, including (1) DVD and (21) CDs. That’s making those tax dollars stretch. And it’ll give my cataloguer something constructive to do for a solid week, which is nothing to sneeze at.

It isn’t mobile. And it’s not a fair. But it does have books. Tons of books.

Since Fiscal wants us to spend this money fairly quickly, most of us choose to patronize our old standby: the New England Mobile Book Fair. I’m told they have over a million titles in stock. Having never counted them, I don’t rightly know. But it’s an enormous store, divided into two main sections. If you walk into the main entrance and turn right, you enter the retail section; walk in & turn left, and you’re in the gigantic remainder section. For retail, NE Mobile gives a flat 20% discount as well as best seller discounts. Most remainder books sell between $3.98-$7.98. It’s an experience, and whenever you’re out in this part of the country, it’s a booklover’s must. The store was recently sold to one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet and—just as importantly—he’s a booklover. It’s truly a wonderful, laid-back place to shop.

NE Mobile Book Fair Flickr photostream


Spinning the caveat to my greatest advantage

Regarding large-print: since we already purchase books occasionally from Thorndike, I choose not to be concerned with large-print at this time. And even though they do have a respectable (not sizable, but respectable) Spanish-language section toward the back of the store near Shipping, I saw nothing of use this time. I did, however, buy some foreign-language CD sets while back there.


The Flying Wallendas balancing act between What Inmates Want vs. What They Can Have

Well, at my place, I don’t have too much trouble. Having talked with me and participated in my socialization programs for years, inmates are fairly familiar with how I see my role and responsibilities. They know they can ask me for anything. They also know that I will limit their requests based on Department-wide and Norfolk-specific guidelines. If I can’t get what they want, I will explain why. Unless the immediate situation demands it (like an emergency), you always give an inmate an explanation for why s/he has to hear “Sorry” or “No.” The Golden Rule, after all.

I always announce on the Lending Library bulletin board when I’m preparing for the next book buy, which is their cue to petition me for titles and subjects that either they need (a school assignment) or they’re interested in (pleasure reading). My cataloguer keeps track of these requests in an Excel file, which I print out & take along on the appointed day. I find gratification when I can find something that someone has their heart set on. I think all Librarians do. It’s part of why we do what we do. On this day, I’ve been approved to use (8) hours to look and see what I can see. I’ll not need that much time, but for my personality I do this work best when I’m not racing against the clock.

Today I have (31) inmate requests to fill. From those, this is what I find:

Tale Of Two Cities (replacement copy)

63 Documents The Government Doesn’t Want You To Read

Magician: Master
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (replacement copy)
Writer’s Market 2012 (to replace our 2011 copy)
God’s Shrink: 10 Sessions And Life’s Greatest Lessons From An Unexpected Patient

Writer’s Digest University
Mabinogion Tetralogy
Rise Of The Blood Royal
W.E.B. Griffin (Lieutenants/Captains/Generals)
New Jim Crow
All God’s Children: The Bosket Family And The American Tradition Of Violence (to replace our beat-up copy)
Defending Jacob (a novel about the adjudication process, recommended by a NEMBF employee who is familiar with the criminal justice system)

Faith (a novel)
Diary of Eve/ Diary of Adam (for a Mark Twain fan)
Clan Of The Cave Bear/ Valley Of Horses (3rd and 4th replacement copies, respectively, which is getting old….)
and Next (for a Crichton fan)
Anthem (replacement copy)
American Fantastic Tales: Terror And The Uncanny From Poe To The Pulps
(not an actual request, but they’re out of Lovecraft)

For some reason, they don’t have Hole in the Universe, a 2004 novel by Mary McGarry Morris, which figures, because it’s for the library clerk who assists me in my Tuesday night ABLE MINDS course. Well, you always want to kind of ‘reward’ the people who actually help you do things. Here, I use the term ‘reward’ in its loosest possible sense, because you’re not supposed to play favorites. But I know that I’m within the rules, because his is a legitimate request. I’m talking about my sense of fairness, given how much time and enthusiasm he gives to the program. Stinks.


Helping Cons Help Themselves

Next, I take my mini-shopping cart and wheel it to the retail Self-Help section. This is the one time of year that I load up on recovery texts. They’re not cheap, but prisoners need them and use them, so I’m not shy about tossing them in the cart. This is what I get:

1.       Workbook Of Compulsive Hoarding & Acquiring
2.       Self-Esteem Workbook
3.       Cognitive Behavioral Workbook For Anxiety
4.       Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook
5.       Mind-Body Workbook For PTSD
6.       Everything GT Stress Management
7.       It Will Never Happen To Me: Growing With Addiction As Youngsters, Adolescents, Adults
8.      Lord Of The Rings And Philosophy (for my Wednesday night ABLE MINDS program, to replace my personal copy that pines for its place on its shelf at home)
9.   Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, And Commitment
10.   Harness Your Dark Side: Mastering Jealousy, Rage, Frustration And Other Negative Emotions
11.   Learned Optimism: HT Change Your Mind And Your Life
12.   Saying Goodbye: A Guide To Coping With A Loved One’s Terminal Illness
13.   When Panic Attacks
14.   Grieving The Death Of A Mother
15.   Victory Over Verbal Abuse
16.   I Hate Conflict! Seven Steps To Resolving Differences With Anyone In Your Life
17.   Fireproof
18.   Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate And Spiritual Guide To Coping With Loss
19.   I Beat The Odds: From Homelessness To The Blind Side And Beyond
20.   Children Of The Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s GT Getting Over Narcissistic Parents
21.   Why Am I Still Depressed?
22.   Easy Way To Stop Drinking
23.   Hi, My Name Is Jack: One Man’s Story Of The Tumultuous Road To Sobriety And A Changed Life
24.   Alcoholics Anonymous (4th Ed.)
25.   Confusing Love With Obsession
26.   Save The Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care
27.   Disarming The Narcissist: Surviving And Thriving With The Self-Absorbed
28.   Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder
29.   Calming The Angry Brain: How Understanding The Way Your Brain Works Can Help You Control Anger And Aggression
30.   Sleeping With A Stranger: How I Survived Marriage To A Child Molester
31.   Healing After The Suicide Of A Loved One
32.   You’re Smarter Than You Look: Uncomplicating Relationships In Complicated Times
33.   Seven Simple Steps To Personal Freedom: An Owner’s Manual For Life
34.   10 Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives (a replacement copy)
35.   When Someone You Love Is Depressed
36.   Yes, You Can! 1,200 Inspiring Ideas For Work, Home & Happiness
37.   To Be A Man: In Search Of The Deep Masculine
38.   Guide To Stress Reduction
39.   A Man’s Way Through The 12 Steps
40.  Real 13th Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance, And Independence Beyond The 12-Step Programs

I just realized that some of these are remainder titles.

Anyway, it’s a good haul. We’ll have to make a little space for them. We intend to re-section our trade fiction paperbacks currently shelved in a wooden “tower”-type bookcase built around a brick pillar in the Lending Library. This ‘pillar case’ ;o) abuts the wooden unit where we shelve approximately 500 self-help/ recovery titles. My goal is to fill this pillar case with more self-help/ recovery/ inmate-specific texts as the years roll by. It’s astonishing and heartening how many inmates avail themselves of this material. Some of them tell me how grateful they are that we offer this stuff. That’s all the encouragement I need. I do not believe, as some do, that a correctional Library should be nothing more than material that addresses the causes and problems of criminality. But I do think that a sizable percentage (10% of the collection) should be available to help prisoners overcome their criminal ways. Norfolk Lending Library houses about 13,000 items; our Self-Help/Recovery section has about 500 items. We’ve a ways to go….So we end up with 40 self-help/recovery titles out of a total purchase of 152 books. The 25% caveat has already been satisfied.


Humor-as-Therapy: or, “Stop it, you’re KILLING me!”

I am a huge proponent of humor-as-therapy for the incarcerated. It works for those on the outside, why not for the imprisoned? In fact, from the poking around I’ve done (Mindess, Moody, Eastman, Keller, Klein), I now view humor as a type of correctional self-help material.

In the past 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of time choosing this stuff for the collection, and Norfolk now has a Humor section of a little over 200 books. To this I now add the following:

1.       New New Rules (by Bill Maher)
2.       Ecstasy Of Defeat: Sports Reporting At Its Finest By The Editors Of The Onion
3.       Bossypants
4.      Best Of The Rejection Collection (New Yorker)
5.      Humorous Verses Of Lewis Carroll
6.      Brief(Er) History Of Time
7.      Dread & Superficiality: Woody Allen As Comic Strip
8.      Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons


Next time, we’ll conclude this sale, and start the grueling procedure called “Getting This Stuff Inside”….

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.






OF BLACK RIDERS AND BLACK FRIDAY: Or, “How do you say ‘bargain’ in Elvish?”

[In which — armed only with our wits and a sizable State check — we make our annual pilgrimage to The Shire Bookshop to see if Your Beleaguered Instructor walks the walk when it comes to buying rehabilitation, socialization, and positive-recreational material for the incarcerated in his charge….]

I visited the Shire on Friday, having got the OK from my boss to work there the day following Thanksgiving. I got a good start on the approved $1,500 purchase. As a nod to Black Friday, the Shire has everything marked down by 30%. A 30 percent discount stretches this money to a very respectable $1,950. And since we’re tax-exempt, we don’t have to worry about the governor stealing any of it.

I set aside 64 books, but that also includes the 15 they let me take a few weeks ago for our Thanksgiving display cases. So I actually was only able to set aside 49 books inside of eight hours’ work. Why only 49? Because I had to work from a 75-title list of inmate requests that my cataloger created over the past several weeks. It takes me the bulk of the day to shlep around the place looking for these books. Drives me nuts.


The Shire Bookshop. Franklin, MA.

And since I’ve spent only $750, that means I’m a little more than a third of the way through. I’ll have to solicit more inmate requests. And I need to do this, because prisoners must feel invested in their library, if you expect them to care about the material and services you offer.

I searched through Humor, Foreign Languages, Religion, Words/word play, Poetry, Drama, Music, Writing, Sports, Computers, and the Occult. I also combed thru True Crime, looking for any books on prisons and the experiences of the incarcerated (we have a smallish section on criminology and criminality that I’m trying to expand). And then I chased inmate requests through the various Fiction sections all day long. A lot of horror requests this time.

There’s also a smattering of VHS tapes that I’m buying (mostly travelogues).

I haven’t hit Self-Help/Psychology/Sociology yet, so that’ll help for next time. I want to get in the hardcover & TP biography sections, too. I need to remember to go through Sci-Fi and American history.

Next time, I hope to bring A.D. with me, but I’m not sure when that’ll happen. About a week ago I advised her to ask her Superintendent for some money to spend, but she told me recently that she hasn’t done it yet.


She’s dawdling. You don’t rehabilitate anyone by dawdling.