New Stuff: Or, “I haven’t seen ‘Wizard of Oz’ in 25 years!”

Amazing, the little things we free men take for granted that tend to grab the attention of the incarcerated.

Today, we receive 24 humor-as-therapy books, most of them purchased through Advanced Educational Products, an excellent source with a consistently high fill rate. Included in the shipment are books on stress management, and one on why it’s important as a parent to help nurture your child’s sense of humor. Good stuff.

We also received DVDs, Blu-Rays, & a comedy CD set. These will be for the ‘active listening’ and ‘active viewing’ part of the humor-as-therapy program. During active listening, we’ll listen to a comedian or a comedy bit, and stop it at certain points to analyze the type of humor used and its effects on the receiver (e.g., was anyone hurt by the joke). We’ll do the same thing with the DVDs.

Since most of my clerks are lifers, this is the 1st time they’re seeing Blu-Ray disks. One of them says to me: “Y’know how I knew which were Blu-Rays?” I figure he’s going to tell me some esoteric piece of information about something that he’s learned about the format, so I bite.


“Because their cases are blue!”

And EYE’m the idiot who hired him.

All of the films were chosen for their humor content. some titles include Fiddler on the Roof, Scrooged, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Wizard of Oz.

When I remove Oz from the box, my inter library loan clerk smiles broadly & says “HEY!  You got the Wizard!  I haven’t seen that movie in 25 years!”  Here I must pause and apologize to the world-weary and cynical, because hearing this breaks my heart.  The Wizard of Oz will always be one of my guilty pleasures, and I manage to see it once a year.  One day, to my delight, I discovered that one of our now-retired Lieutenants could recite whole scenes from this film, such is his mania & affection for it.  His favorite is when the Wizard ‘gives’ the Tin Man his heart.


The inter library loan clerk has signed up for the first cycle of the program, which begins on May 26th.  He will definitely get to see his movie.

Or, at least see sections of it.  Remember, we’re running a stress-reduction program using humor as our therapeutic vehicle.  We’re not permitted to entertain in our libraries, only to instruct & educate.  But if any entertainment value is gleaned by the participants, well, it’s all in the name of rehabilitation and re-integration.

“And remember, my sentimental friend: a heart is not judged by how much YOU love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

“All’s well that ends” OR, Pith from a naïve genius

Months ago, I was tempted to mention my attendance of the upcoming Correctional Educational Association’s Region I conference May 27-29 in Mystic, Conneck-Tea-Kit.  I did not give into that temptation, because of certain correctional truisms, one of them being “Don’t Believe It ‘Til You See It.”  But this week I was informed by Fiscal that, I will in fact be there, and this courtesy of the “Skill-Building Techniques for Stress Reduction” grant, now in its final Year 2 death-throes.

This conference idea, BTW, was suggested two years ago by Shelley Quezada, uber-Librarian and Consultant to the Underserved on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Shelley attends as many of our DOC librarian’s meetings as she can fit into her busy globe-trotting schedule.

Board of library commissionersShe also is my liaison for this grant and, in many ways, has mentored me throughout this crazyquilt career. She knows I don’t attend conferences and suggested that a good use for some of this grant money would be to get me out & about. So muchas gracias, mi buena amiga.

Everyone in our Dept. approval path was enormously helpful in getting me there, and when that happens I have learned to count my blessings & wing a prayer of thanksgiving heavenward.

It doesn’t always work out, this bureaucracy business.  Even when it does, sometimes it does so at a cost of so many compromises that it seems pointless to have requested anything in the first place. But corrections has helped me practice gratitude, and patience.  I figure another 200 years and I’ll have it down.

CEA logoI plan to participate in several workshops, including:

  • “Teaching in Corrections as an Adjunct Professor”
  • “Social Climate: What it Is and Why It Matters for the Incarcerated”
  • “Disleksia: The Movie”
  • “Changin’ Your Game Plan: How to Use Your Incarceration as a Steppingstone for Success,” and
  • “Embracing Change in Adult Learning”

There will also be a tour of York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only female correctional facility. york

I think I’m looking forward most to that.  It’s interesting, seeing how other States respond to the programming needs of inmates and the security concerns of the institution.  I hope we visit their Library. I want to see how it measures up.

Mystic is kinda close to Niantic, a sleepy harbor that contains within its town limits one of the most jaw-dropping used bookstore empires on the East Coast, the increasingly inaccurately-named Book Barn.

book barnWhat started out as books in a barn has grown throughout the village–almost cancerous-like–into four separate locations, and all within a span of 1.5 measly miles.  One of my favorite places to be and, since the conference is in late May, it should be one of the few times when I get to visit the place in fair weather.

Take a look at their RealityTV Pilot.

“I think I just heard the other shoe drop!” OR: SO FAR, SO GOOD

On Wednesday, the title pages were signed, copies made & collated, and original plus 7 were mailed at local post office before 5PM.

This should guarantee that the package gets postmarked by Thursday the 11th, 5PM. That is the application deadline.

I should have asked the postman to postmark it while I stood there. I didn’t think of it until now.

ALSO — although I changed the budget amounts on the two budget pages, I failed to change the total grant figure on the master title page. I sent an email expressing my embarrassment and asking to be pardoned. That’s the proper thing to do in these cases.

Ever onward.

MEETING A DEAD LINE: OR, “Pick up the phone, why don’t you?”

Using a telephone is another way for the Cosmos to remind you that the universe does not revolve around you.

Just because an important deadline looms large, and just because every second counts. and just because you need to talk to certain key people at certain key times — Well, it don’t always work that way.

Today was such a day. But things continue to move forward.

For example — My application for this grant will be assigned tomorrow by someone in our Dept. for whom I hold the utmost respect, AND who is stopping by from a day-long meeting solely on my behalf.

These are the kinds of people that make you proud to work in our Department. I’m with Anne: Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.

“I trust this addresses your concerns:” Or, I GOT YOUR BACK

The Board asked for support letters, two of which they preferred would come from former students of mine. I asked Victor Avelino (not his real name) to compose such a letter. Victor’s completed several ABLE MINDS courses and in fact now assists in the Wednesday night course. With his permission granted, here’s what he had to say:

My name is Victor Avelino and I have participated in several ABLE MINDS classes and currently serve as the instructor’s assistant. In each class I attend, I observe the interaction between Mr. Mongelli and his students.

In this environment where trust and confidentiality are key components of our everyday lives, it is difficult even for one inmate to ask another inmate to open up and share without their defenses going up. I have recognized that Mr. Mongelli has built a trust with his classes. He is able to entertain discussions on a level that the men here can relate to, without making them feel inferior, ashamed, oe even at times like a prisoner.

It is easy for men in our position to shut down and keep their personal lives to themselves. However, during the classes Mr. Mongelli conducts, many of the men become invested in his conversations so that they’re able to contribute and share about their life experiences.

In addition to his work as Librarian and instructor, Mr. Mongelli also lends an ear to those who need someone to talk to. Being in prison, it is hard to talk to people be they prisoner or staff. At times, the loss of a loved one is difficult to discuss, as well as depression or anger issues. Mr. Mongelli extends the courtesy of active listening to many men here, and many have taken him up o his offer.

I pray this letter is helpful in your decision to award Norfolk the grant to begin a therapy course using humor. I am positive that the men here will benefit greatly by this therapeutic class.

Respectfully, etc.

Prisoners at Norfolk respond to new programs and new program ideas, and enthusiastically support proposals and concepts that bring a fresh approach to the rehabilitative effort. Victor puts his money where his mouth is. He is a recent Boston University graduate, and has achievement certificates from several dozen programs. This effort supports how he has attempted to address the underlying causes of his criminal thinking.

A further note — as I type these words, Victor has little hope of ever seeing the street again. He saw the need to change, put in the work to change, and continues to monitor his thoughts and behavior. He wanted to become a better man, and he has succeeded. To be sure, his changed attitude is based on a chance, however slim, that one day he may be released. But he knows that the change begins in jail — his crucible of changed character — for those wise enough to accept the challenge.

LAUGHTER YOGA – WHO’D A THUNK IT? OR: “You don’t even need to bring a mat!”

Bill and Linda Hamaker are two extraordinary individuals. They run with a concept that could open them up to ridicule and derision. After all — laughter yoga? ;o)

But then they take the comic absurdity to the extreme when they sincerely tell you that they’re convinced that laughter movements such as this one will be responsible for changing the world for the better. They are zealots, and true believers.

A little laughter never hurt. I myself will be opening myself up for ridicule and derision when word gets out to the staff that we’re doing laughter yoga in the Lending Library. There will be no end to it.

Here’s a nice newspaper article about Bill & Linda:

Yoga + Laughter – A Lot of Fun in Sharon

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT; OR, “What’s this project about, exactly?”

The application’s ready to be mailed, but I remembered just last night that Shelley requires Letters of Support from our Administration. So before leaving last night I emailed them both asking for same.

They have each seen and read the project proposal, due to the fact that our Department has its own program application that must be completed, reviewed, and approved before any new program ideas can be offered to the inmates.

Shelley also has asked for two letters of support from inmates who have already attended my ABLE MINDS course, and who are willing to participate in “Humor-as-Therapy in the Correctional Environment.” I’ll secure those letters by Friday.

The application deadline looms large….



THOMAS: THE BEST EDISON? OR “Does anyone remember how to snail-mail?”

This weekend I finished the revision to the grant application. I emailed it to Rachel Masse at the Board, who will send it onto Shelley Quezada.

I asked Rachel to send me a confirmation email saying she received the application attachment. Prison paranoia runs deep. Haven’t heard from her yet.

When I do, and everything’s deemed to be hokey-dokey, I then have to send seven copies of the application to the Board, who in a few months will distribute it to their SACL members for review and their selection process.

And so it goes….

“You don’t even need a sense of humor!” OR, LAUGHTER YOGA AND YOU

A part of the Humor-as-therapy in the Coorectional Environment project will be an increasingly-popular genre of stress-reduction technique called Laughter Yoga.

I’ve decided to become a certified Laughter Toga Leader so I can help the prisoners enjoy the benefits of this idea.

I’ve also decided to ask Laughter Yoga Teachers Bill and Linda Hamaker to come inside and lead the first Laughter Yoga sessions during the initial cycle of the project.

Here’s a link to the Hamaker web site:

Let’s Laugh Today