Bustin’ In & Bustin’ Out: Books, Radio Programs, and the Phone Calls

This weekend I volunteered at the Grassroots Radio Conference‘s registration table and attended the panel Bustin’ In, Bustin’ Out: The Key to Prison Justice.

Below are the panelists with links to their affiliated organizations.

Barbara Kessel from UC Books to Prisoners and Reading Reduces Recidivism

Nick Szuberla from Thousand Kites

Steven Renderos from Center for Media Justice and Prison Phone Justice

Bustin’ In, Bustin’ Out: The Key to Prison Justice seemed like a great interest point to my studies and as a follow up to the documentary that I previously wrote about, Music From the Big HouseThis documentary showed one of the men behind bars as a DJ at Angola prison’s radio station. Apparently this is a rare occurrence in the PIC and prisoner-ran radio stations are more popular in Europe.

Since I’m am not all too knowledgeable about radio, I’m going to provide as many resources and projects I’ve learned about during this session.

The common theme in this session was on communication to the outside world whether through books, radio, or the telephone.

Prison Phone Justice is composed of three organizations: MAG-Net, Working Narratives, and Prison Legal News.

I’ll let their campaign describe their issue:

Put into simple terms, up to 60% of the costs of calls from prison has nothing to do with the cost of the phone service provided. So when Mary talks to her husband 40% percent of the cost is for the service and 60% is a kickback to the state government.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The vast majority of states receive kickbacks from phone companies, which result in higher phone rates.
  1. These excessive rates further distance prisoners from their families, who can ill afford high phone bills. While most prisoners are from urban areas, virtually all prisons built in the last 30 years have been built in rural areas far from where most prisoners have family or community ties.
  1. The nation is disadvantaged when prisoners are unable to maintain family ties that will help them succeed post-release. There is a widely-known and researched correlation between prisoners who maintain contact with their families and those who are successful in staying out of prison after they are released.
  1. Most states profit handsomely from prison phone kickbacks, to the tune of over $152 million a year nationwide.

Continue reading the brief of there campaign here.

Nick Szuberla, Thousand Kites, stated that the radio not only can bring voices in, but can also bring voices out. Their radio program created accountability to the rural Kentucky prison that severely isolates people behind bars from urban areas, for example the nearest bus station and airport is three hours away.

You can read more about this program through this article, Don’t Hate the Player: Radio Project Reaches Out to Inmates and Their Families, Breaking the Silence Around America’s Prisons.

Below is an explanation of their radio program:

Thousand Kites also features a radio program, Calls From Home that invites you to:

Join our special radio program that brings the voices of families across the nation to the airwaves as they send greetings directly to their incarcerated loved ones.

Below is an example of their program:

Below is the trailer of a documentary, Up the Ridge,  about the PIC and keeping people behind bars that were used to urban settings in a rural area:

Two additional resources suggested from participates were:

In addition to this panel that I attended, I also was able to attend the Speak Cafe which featured poets with experience ranging from being new to the stage to Hakim Bellamy –  inaugural Poet Laureate of Albuquerque, NM (2012-2014), co-creator of the multimedia Hip Hop theater production Urban Verbs: Hip-Hop Conservatory & Theaterand Strategic Communication Director at Media Literacy Project. Visit Hakim’s website at: http://hakimbe.com/. Oh, and what makes Hakim even more awesome? He loves libraries! 🙂

Below is one of his poems, Generation

Photo Credits: Barbara’s pictureNick’s pictureSteven’s picture

New Easy Reader Series Released

Knowing if a patron needs an easy reader can been difficult.

Sometimes at the jail library patrons request Goosebumps books, stating that their interest as wanting to revisit their childhood or how they felt when they read it in their youth. Maybe that is true, sometimes I think it is their reading level.

If you are not familiar with easy readers, they have a lower reading level, but have a more mature plot that is more relatable to the readers’ age and life.

This new easy reader series, Always Upbeat / All That, is written at a 3rd grade level and is coming out this summer. The first five books in the series are already out. This cheer dramas and baller swag dramas are flip books, meaning one side of the book is from the young woman’s perspective and if you turn the book over the perspective is from the young man.

Readers are taking well to the series already:

In the two weeks the Urban Flip Books have been on the market, McHugh said preorders have exceeded sales for any other book in the company’s 30-year-history, underscoring what one struggling teen reader said in a focus group: “Finally, I can have a thick book and look like everyone else.” (Carpenter)

A co-worker of mine also suggested Liar by Justine Larbalestier as a great easy reader that is also extremely engaging in plot.

To read more about the series that starts with Always Upbeat / All That, read the article below:

Carpenter, Susan. Not Just For Kids: A Lifeline for Struggling Teen ReadersLos Angeles Times. 17 June 2012.

Some Advice From A Patron

While at work last week, a patron who visits the the university with her husband every summer began telling me about her stint as a librarian before she dedicated more than 20 years to teaching over 1,000 2nd graders.

Surprisingly enough one of her librarian jobs was at a probation office. One of her projects was to do a study to see who could predict a person on parole’s likeliness to re-offend by examining the client notes of probation officers or social workers.

She found that probation officers were more correct. Probably, she told me, because there was such a high recidivism rate in our current system and the probation officers were probably more hardened by their job compared to the social workers who took more of a “Pollyanna approach.”

What she thought would reduce recidivism rates while people are behind bars was to treat the population as individuals instead of trying to treat a group of people who are perceived as all the same, especially when it comes to education and learning in the prison system – and that also means in the library.

Randomly meeting a patron who also has experience within the PIC with a librarian perspective, it was good to have her remind me of what libraries can offer patrons behind bars and to continue thinking about how to serve a variety of patrons with a variety of different needs.

Glennor Shirley’s Blog Is Down

UPDATE: As of July 26, 2012, Glennor Shirley’s blog is up and running again!

Glennor Shirley’s blog was considered one of the top prison library blogs.

Her blog, Prison Librarian, was located at http://www.prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com.

Last week she lost all of her blog content and I’m not sure if she is trying to regain her content.

The blog OLOS Columns: ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services featured Glennor as a guest blogger until 2008. You can read her past blog posts under the tag Services to Incarcerated People and Ex-Offenders.

To read more about Glennor Shirley, read Words from Past Prison Librarians: Glennor Shirley.

Next Weekend! – Bustin’ In & Bustin’ Out Through the Radio

Next weekend is the Grassroots Radio Conference!

Not until today did I see that there is a panel on Bustin’ In, Bustin’ Out: The Key to Prison Justice. And I can’t wait to go!

Below is a synopsis of their panel presentation:

Prisons and jails create legal boundaries between us. And with those legal boundaries come physical, mental and spiritual distance as well. What role does radio play in bridging this divide? How can be begin to be whole again? In this workshop, we will address these questions on both local and national levels. We will look at the unique ways in which radio is being used to shatter these boundaries through the national Prison Phone Justice Campaign, and specifically the Thousands Kites’ Calls from Home program to connect with those on the inside. We will discuss how local advocates are using radio and other media, from books to petitions, to shift the prisoner landscape from the outside in.

The workshop will include interactive ways to get involved with these campaigns and an introduction on how to start your own prison radio program.  The first half of the workshop will focus on the campaign and how it is using radio/media as an organizing tool.  The second half will be a hands on workshop on creating your own prison radio show. Urbana-Champaign’s Books to Prisoners will also be hosting a work session where we will be responding to letters from prisoners and mailing them books.

Ooooo! I’m so excited! I will report back what I learned!