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

“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”

 

 

I’M SPENDING YOUR MONEY (Part II)

[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….)
Micro
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”….

“Are there no prisons?” CHRISTMAS-ING WITH THE SURPLUS POPULATION

[In which we use Dickens to once again shirk our important rehabilitative teaching duties…..]

The film is Scrooge, the actor is Alastair Sim. The class is ABLE MINDS. The group is a bunch of convicted felons that just want to watch a holiday movie without all the rehabilitative razzmatazz.

surplus population

So, after discussing one of the inmate’s conflict resolution assignments, we go right into the film. I worry that the third of the class who speak Spanish won’t understand the British accents, but we muddle through.

This is the 2nd Christmas season that I’ve offered A Christmas Carol in the Lending Library. The week before the 25th, we offer it twice, on consecutive evenings. Prisoners always sign up, and they’re always grateful for having seen it.

On this particular night, when I hear The Ghost of Christmas Present rebuke Scrooge with his own words about the ‘surplus population,’ it occurs to me for the first time in my career that I am sitting in this Library watching this film with representatives of that population. This scene, the film, and what I do for my living, are all given a certain urgency and meaning by this realization.  I consider this new thought a kind of serendipitous Christmas present, and I’m not entirely sure whom (Whom) to thank.

I have noticed that prisoners respond in one of two ways to educational films: either they’re embarrassed or nonplussed by the emotionality of the plot, laugh at inappropriate times, and make snide comments to each other — OR they’re quiet, attentive, and have honest, healthful emotional reactions to what’s being shown. On this night, I have people from the first group. This I feel is unfortunate, because these people have just completed eight weeks of intensive consequential thinking training.

The following night, I have men who fall into the second group. These are folks who signed up just for the pure pleasure of watching the film. The difference in their responses from the group of the previous night is remarkable, and I mention it to one of my clerks, who says: “They’re more mature.” Some men are in tears at various points in the plot. I’m always grateful when that happens, and it happens more often than you may imagine. I stoke this notion that tears are cleansing, and that prisoners need to cry.

There is a very self-conscious moment for all when the same Ghost again rebukes Scrooge with his own words: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” All of us sitting there know emphatically that, indeed, 150 years after Dickens wrote the thing, there are plenty of prisons.

Showing this film to these people at this festive time of the year in order to solicit some tearful contemplation is our attempt at reaching “the Surplus.”

ScroogeWeb

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.

__Shire

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.

baystate

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

ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN’S LIBRARY: Or, Beggars CAN be chosers

Today I was invited to Walpole Public Library to pick n’ choose through library sale leftovers. They’re weeding like mad because they need to transfer their collection in December to their newly-built library just down the street.

Interesting side note: the town of Walpole repeatedly voted down the construction of a new library. Finally it was put through on a third referendum, passing by a 20-vote margin. Actually, the previous referendums failed by the same ultra-slim margin (Walpole has 31,000 residents), which I think emboldened those who supported the idea of a new public library in the town. The current building was built 100 years ago and, while it has strengths, they’re overshadowed by mildew, terrible parking, and poor visibility in the community.

I spent four hours in a basement storage room going through items which have been donated to the sale of the Friends of the Walpole Library. I end up packing and setting aside eight boxes of hardcover fiction/non-fiction. Also, with the help of Reference Librarian Warren Smith, I am able to pack about 150 educational video tapes. These tapes will see library use, and will also be used on the prison’s education video channel.

Always, always, always, there is that cultural technological lag between what happens in the free world and prisons. This is quite necessary for the security and orderly running of these institutions. Inmates are frequently caught with cell phones now, and have crashed computer networks in the law library and other areas.

3D_ScreamAn important distinction: we’re not talking about a technological disparity based on economics, the kind you may find between affluent and destitute communities. Rather, the focus must be on the clientele and where they are physically situated in life. We are not serving the general public, we’re not serving children, and we are not serving the corporate world or Academia. We’re serving social deviants in a prison. These are people who Society has agreed live life the wrong way. Technology in the hands of many of these folks is a dangerous thing, especially in the context of a medium- or maximum-security prison.

What you have to remember about corrections is that you must not offer technology or services simply because you can, or because it’s the latest thing – you offer a service in a certain medium based upon the security concerns of the prison and of the Department. Security is serious business in a prison. Security trumps everything. And so it should.

As 2012 looms large–and while the free world discards their DVDs in favor of 3D Blu-Ray technology–we are excited to be getting 150 video tapes for the correctional Library.

This donation is particularly timely, because the Administration recently approved the design and installation of a prison-wide DVD/video system operated from our School building (it used to be operated from the Gym, of all places, but has been transferred to us). The Superintendent has given the Library its own VHS channel, so now we need to feed the monster week in and week out.

The inmates will be clamoring for us to buy and borrow videos, and that can be a Jurassic pain in the ass. Seldom content with being gifted with something new and useful or diverting, inmates are always pushing. Prison administrators have to reign in this behavior, just as a parent would check a teenage driver drunk with his new-found autonomy. That’s why you must be circumspect before saying “Yes,” forever weighing the apparent benefits with the agenda behind the request.

Well, inmates always have an agenda. This is because many prisoners who participate in jailhouse politics are controlling personalities. They manipulated people on the Outside, got caught, and continue their manipulating ways Inside. Manipulators are tiresome people, and must be checked often.

We are, however, grateful. And my classifier, cataloger, and bibliopegist now have something to keep them busy for the next several days.

(Part 4) “Say, what time is it, kids?” “IT’S CENSORSHIP TIME!”

I’ll let you in on a little secret, if you guys promise to keep your mouths shut:

The Education division really doesn’t expect us to limit our purchase to only the five previously-mentioned categories. We’ve been told unofficially that, as long as those kinds of books comprise 25% of the total purchase, no one’s going to give us any grief about it.

So, knowing that I usually come away with about 245 titles for my $1,500–and knowing that I’ve already placed 39 self-help titles in my cart–I’m well on my way to satisfying that requirement.

I still need Spanish-language material. Since the Shire’s Spanish-language holdings consists primarily of two shelves of teach-yourself textbooks, I have to look pretty carefully. Ultimately I toss in the cart the following:

  • La Mirada: No Ve La
  • El Ultimo Magnate
  • Dias De Poder
  • En Un Acto
  • Condicion Fisica Para Vivar Mejar
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Catecismo de la Inglesia catolica
  • La Isla Mejor el Mar

For Large-print, I find only six titles, and they’re nothing that anyone at Norfolk will want to read, so I pass. Our current large-print holdings stands at 81, which is a fairly respectable number.

For Community Re-entry/Re-integration, I usually look for guides and directories, something current that can help a prisoner plan for his successful re-entry into society by finding shelter, employment, and/or halfway house/treatment facilities before the date of his release. I must say that, since the Department gave its Librarians filtered internet access two years ago, we’ve been able to wean ourselves away from print and rely more on current information posted by both government and community agencies. Knowing this, I pass also on this category.

For Job and  Career Guides, I find:

  • Fiske’s Guide To Four-Year Colleges, 2006. Knowing that our recent college guide is 2005, in the cart it goes. (A little later in the year, when we’re given some Education Division money to spend, I’ll be able to visit a retail store and update this title).
  • How Not to Destroy Your Career in Music
  • What They’ll Never Tell You about the Music Business
  • The Resume Catalog: 200 Damn Good Examples
  • Careers in Crime: An Applicant’s Guide (this is a career guide spoof written by a career guides editor. I can’t resist)

That’s it for mandated titles. Now, it’s time to play….

(Part 3) “Say, what time is it, kids?” “IT’S CENSORSHIP TIME!”

Every acquisitions Librarian uses several time-honored and “wind tunnel-tested” criteria for determining if a particular book is good enough to be added to their existing collection. My experiences with corrections and with inmates has taught me to rely on a certain method of selecting which books are good enough to be tossed into my rickety stolen-from-the-supermarket shopping cart (the one with the front wheels that consistently and annoyingly veer to the right for some stupid reason).

  • Quality. We already know that material should not circumvent the overall mission of corrections, and that mission is to protect the public. This mean the correctional Librarian should shy away from mafia books and other true crime, murder mysteries, stalker stories and other “kill-your-neighbor” fiction, and fiction tending to glorify criminal behavior and reward criminal thinking. I’ve learned through experience that—much like the “If you build it, they will come” mantra of speculative marketing–prisoners will indeed read various other types of fiction and literature if you take time to seek it out and provide it.  For example: did you know that prisoners read romance novels? Well, they do. And now that genres are burgeoning into numerous sub-genres in the publishing world, there are a great many and varied romance novels to choose from. As you’d expect, not all prisoners go for this stuff, but you might be surprised to learn that these books are being checked out continuously.

But apart from which subject areas to include/exclude, other factors contribute to every book buy you do.

  • Quantity. Because we do a substantial ($1,000) book buy from the prison’s budget only twice yearly, I like to get the most books for my book-buying dollar. So quantity has as much to do with the selection process as does quality.
  • Buy Hard Covers. Because it’s a prison’s library, I believe in buying as many hard covers as possible. If I could, I wouldn’t have one mass market in the collection, only because they don’t hold up to inmate handling for very long. We do, however, have a competent book binder on staff, and to him goes the tedious work of keeping our mass market books in good repair.
  • Buy Trade Paper. Having said this, I have no problem buying trade paperback in great shape, as they tend to take a better beating; plus, they seem to be easier to repair, and will stay repaired longer.
  • Condition. I don’t accept tattered covers, or books that smell bad, or text that’s been saturated in a sea of highlighting marker, or text with copious marginalia. I also take no books that have had other books leaning on them so that, over time, their spines have been compromised to the point where their cant (the way they sit on the shelf) is compromised and they no longer stand upright… Another thing to watch for at the prison is when inmates write their commitment numbers in permanent marker on the outside page edges and throughout the text. We won’t accept books marked this way. We also won’t keep our own books which have had the Library’s property stamp scribbled out in pen or magic marker, in an inmate’s vain attempt to pass off library property as his own.
  • Please your Administration. We know for ourselves that we tend to select books that are newer and attractive in appearance. Inmates are no exception. It does matter what the collection as a whole looks like staring back at you from those miles of shelving. And the reason it matter is because your Administration loves to see the shelves filled with brightly-colored reading material, which they are proud to show off to visiting dignitaries and American Correctional Association auditors.
  • Used Bookstores Rule. I enjoy proving to Administration and prisoners that useful recent books in great condition can be had from used book stores. ALWAYS PATRONIZE LOCAL USED BOOK STORES.
  • “Will they read the damn thing?” An important consideration – and probably THE most difficult one of all to determine – and the one that drives all acquisitions Librarians stark-raving cuckoo. To answer this, know your readers. To know your readers, you must mix & mingle with them each time the lending library’s open; pay attention to what comes in through your book return boxes;  and talk to inmates about their reading choices………..Notice that I omitted the idea of “Checking your circulation statistics by category.” Circulation figures by category are the library world’s equivalent of a popularity contest, and to me they’re meaningless. You don’t need circ stats by category to discover what inmates like to read. INMATES LIKE TO READ WHATEVER THE PUBLIC LIKES TO READ. This is because until their arrest/ conviction/ incarceration, these folks were members of the public. Plus, since many of these folks are outlaws, then stuff that is against the law or anti-authority holds constant appeal. But to spend State money catering to these preferences is utter folly………Speaking of knowing your readers — Many’s the time when I’ve had a nice recently-published, beautifully-illustrated coffee table book about this-n-that ready to toss in the cart, and then the Acquisitions Angel on my shoulder whispers in my ear: “Whaddayou, nuts? You know that’ll sit on the shelf collecting book mites. Put it back and save that $25 for five trade paperbacks that someone’ll actually read.” Then the little devil on the other shoulder chimes in: “Look – it’s Dorland Kindersley! Lotsa pictures! AND it comes with a CD and it’s still in the CD pocket? You can’t pass this up! And look at the cover – COLORS! Think how GOOD it’ll look on the shelf!”
  • Support the School/Other program Areas. Beyond the concept of “Knowing your readers,” you must also know what programming areas of the prison need your support. Check with Department heads before going out, and ask for lists of titles or subjects to search for. It’s great PR for the library, you’re working in concert with other prison professionals, and these people will appreciate that you thought enough of their work to want to support it.
  • Guide Them. When dealing with inmate patrons and their reading preferences, even the simple act of choosing reading material must be ‘corrected’ and guided. Inmates tend to read a plethora of material which runs counter to their programming and rehabilitative needs. That’s why you make a mistake by relying SOLELY on circulation information to determine what material to buy for inmates. If the only criterion you relied on for acquisitions was circ stats, you’d only be buying Jackie Collins, Iceberg Slim and similar types of urban fiction, Ann Rice and other vampire stories, erotica, outlaw biker magazines, horror novels, etc. Just like young adults (I’m thinking boys here in particular), when left to their own devices inmates don’t choose the most wholesome reading material.
  • Buy ‘New.’ Especially with science, health, and financial planning texts, the more recent the edition statement, the more likely it will be used.
  • Supplement with Retail Purchases. We pay for an annual service from Brodart called the McNaughton Lyfeguard Plan. We purchase new fiction/nonfiction in reinforced paperbacks. We also receive the cataloguing for each title. In addition, if there’s any end-of-year cash from the Education Division, we’ll use it to do a substantial purchase at a local retail/remainder house. This way your collection gets a yearly infusion of newer titles.

(Part 2) “Say, what time is it, kids?” “IT’S CENSORSHIP TIME!”

Here’s something else we need to do while we’re out here — we’re gonna honor some written inmate requests that we’ve got stashed in our trusty 10×13 manila clasp envelope we’ve brought with us for just such a moment.

You cannot ignore inmate requests for reading material, and I think I may have given several students the impression that I do. I do not. It’s truly fun and personally rewarding  providing requested reading for those who appreciate your efforts. It’s the Acquisitions Librarian coming out in you. Plus — unlike most men, apparently — I love to shop, and I love to shop for BOOKS. (Once you Kindle-worshipers finally manage to destroy the publishing world, we book-lovers are going to come and get every one of you).

It’s satisfying when you’re able to match a request with a purchase. And it’s doubly so when you see the prisoner following through and checking out the book. Your time’s been well-spent, and now some of his time can be well-spent in reading something he enjoys — within the limits of what the public and corrections deem appropriate.

Since you’ve read these notes beforehand, you have a pretty good idea of what you need to look for. Let’s start with this one…A poetry lover wants a specific translation of Chaucer. I remember saying to this guy:

“Look, Bud — this is jail, not Yale. You get what we give ya.”

He replied, “So far, you’ve given me 15 years, and a migraine.” Ingrate!

  • Anyway, we’re now in the poetry section, and it’s clear that they don’t have the Chaucer he’s looking for BUT — they do have a nice little Perennial Library hardcover called The Poetry of Chaucer, and I toss that in the cart ’cause it’s in great shape and they only want ten bucks for it, meaning we’ll get it for $7. Such a bargain! Since we only have his Canterbury Tales, this’ll improve our poetry holdings. Of course, this choice doesn’t fill the request, but you can’t have everything. Plus, there’s always ILL.

What’s next?

  • One of my clerks who’s a horror/sci-fi nut wants me to look for some Robert McCammon. I turn my cart down the 10-unit Science Fiction/Fantasy aisle, where these Shire-folk have placed hard covers first, followed by paperbacks (alpha by author). No effort is made to separate sci-fi from fantasy, but who cares because we’ve got the author’s name. And we discover that there’s no McCammon. OK, knowing they don’t have a separate horror section, I turn to the paperback fiction wall and head for the “M” section. And that’s where we find several — Bethany’s Sin, Swan Song, Boy’s Life, and Stinger, all paperbacks, all in great shape, and all stuff we don’t have.
  • Since my clerk is also a Harlan Ellison freak, I return to the sci-fi/fantasy aisle & pick up a trade paper copy of Medea: Harlan’s World. Because it’s more than a little shelf-worn, our book binder will put a hard cover on it to make it more shelf-worthy.
  • Knowing that these have been missing since last inventory, one of my circulation clerks asked me to keep an eye out for The Godfather and volume two of Wouk’s War and Remembrance, but I can’t find either in HC/PB
  • Another clerk asks for Thomas Pynchon & Margaret Atwood, and I find Vineland and The Handmaid’s Tale, both in HC for a measly $10 each
  • A patron asks for something on back pain and I find a trade paper with a 2003 edition statement; this is “recent” for our collection, so I toss it in the cart
  • A regular law library patron asks for “Books on World War II from the Japanese perspective.” He’s given me a list of about 10 titles to look for, titles that he’s copied out of a recent Edward R. Hamilton catalog. I hand the list to Jack Boland, proprietor, and tell him “Any help is appreciated.” About 10 minutes later, Jack returns and reports that he has none of the requested titles, nor anything else that will help fill the request
  • A fellow asks that we replace our missing copy of Guns, Germs and Steel, and I find a nice trade paper copy for $8.50 in the History aisle
  • Another inmate needs some biographical material on poet Christina Rosetti for a college report he’s doing. We have her poetry, but no biography, so I check both HC/ trade paper biography aisles, and find some biographical notes in a trade paper poetry collection
  • Finally, one of my inmate authors (a good writer who’s never been published but keeps trying) asks for a Stephen King book he’s read about called On Writing: Learning to Write Fiction. I find it in the Grammar & Journalism section, and it’s a whopping $20 for a flimsy trade paperback.

See, because we’re never given a lot of money for these book buys, I try getting the most bang for the buck, which is why I’m in a used bookstore instead of a multinational chain or mom-n-pop retail. So I try avoiding any title over $15, unless I’m convinced we really need it. Well, we don’t need this King book, but the writer would definitely get his money’s worth out of it, plus we have a sizable literary criticism section in the Reference Room. So that’s where this title will go.

That being the end of the “special requests,” I turn now to the other mandated categories on the list.