ALA Annual 2013: Sessions of Interest for Prison Librarians

I am so excited for ALA’s Annual Conference this week! Here are my top sessions to visit to improve my skills as a prison librarian. Following my top choice are other sessions that our profession can learn from.

Connecting Multilingual Patrons with Legal Information: Key Resources

Presenters: Mirenda Watkins, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator, ProBono Net & Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator/Attorney at Law, Illinois Legal Aid Online
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Time: 8:30 – 10:00 AM

Location: Palmer House Hilton, Spire Parlor

This workshop focuses on Spanish-language resources for librarians assisting low income and vulnerable patrons facing legal issues. We will highlight:

-LawHelpEspanol.org- a national gateway to websites providing free legal information
-LawHelpInteractive.org- a gateway to pro-se forms assisting self-represented patrons
-CitizenshipWorks.org- a website and companion app assisting individuals understand the naturalization process
-ImmigrationLawHelp.org- a website assisting low-income immigrants find legal help
-Collaborative models between libraries/civil legal services providing Spanish-language legal information/referrals.

-Participants will be able to identify available multilingual sources of legal information to assist patrons facing legal challenges.
-Participants will be able to identify available multilingual sources of legal referral information to assist patrons facing legal challenges.
-Participants will be able to identify key stakeholders and steps in creating their own civil legal services/library partnership.
-Participants will be able to identify additional online legal resources to augment their current collection.
-Participants will be able to access additional online materials concerning Librarians and the Access to Justice Movement.

Library Services for Youth in Custody
Date:  Sunday, June 30, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 4:00 PM
Location: McCormick Place Convention Center

Meeting & Social Gathering for anyone interested in library services to juvenile correctional or detention facilities. This time is for networking, problem-solving, skill-sharing, and general happy-making! You do not need to be a member of Library Services for Youth in Custody, but we would love it if you want to join.

Diversity and Outreach Fair
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 5:30 PM
Location:  McCormick Place Convention Center – Hall A1, Special Events Area

The Fair highlights library services to underserved or underrepresented communities, including people with disabilities; poor and homeless populations; people of color; English-language learners; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; new Americans, new and non-readers; older adults; people living in rural areas; incarcerated people and ex-offenders; and mobile library services and bookmobiles. The theme of the 2013 Diversity and Outreach Fair is Removing Barriers to Service for All: Creating Meaningful and Integrated Library Experiences for People with Disabilities. One poster that will include on libraries behind bars is Mix IT Up!

Other sessions that may be of interest to the profession are:

Shakespeare in Prisons Conference, Nov. 15-16, 2013

Razor Wire Women

Shakespeare at Notre Dame is pleased to announce the Shakespeare in Prisons Conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame on Friday, November 15, and Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Featuring keynote addresses and film screenings by Curt Tofteland (founding director of Shakespeare Behind Bars) and Tom Magill (founder of the Educational Shakespeare Center and director of the Irish film Mickey B ), the conference aims to bring together artists and educators engaged in transformational arts programs using Shakespeare in prisons across the USA (and the world) for an exploration and study of the effects such programming has on prison populations. The goal is to promote a collaborative learning forum where participants will be exposed to a diverse array of programs that all strive for a common result: the habilitation of the inmate’s mind, heart, body, and spirit.

Departing from the traditional academic conference structure, the Shakespeare in Prisons conference will focus on the craft and experiences of the…

View original post 972 more words

National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Collaboration Beyond Campus: Building Connections Between the Prison and Univesity

Nalini Nadkarni with Sustainability in Prisons Project at Evergreen State College

Nalini created a science lecture series and lab to produce sustainable operations, education, scientific research, and conservation. This includes organic gardens, bee keeping, water catching, composting, recycling, raising butterflies, prairie plant restoration, etc.

This program allows students to develop science skills, collaboration skills, and critical thinking.

She also took views of nature to supermax prisons by creating large installations.

Below is her TED Talk.

George Lombardi with Missouri Department of Corrections

George is the director of MDOC. Prison, he said, is like a small city and has the same operational needs. He reminded us that when bringing interns into the prison that every major has a role in the facility.

He also suggested that staff are offered the same opportunities, for he sees staff struggling with their own education or their children’s education.

George has observed that having colleges and educational programs in MDOC change the environment in a positive way.

He is an advocate for an dog training program to save dogs that face euthanization.  This program connects the city to the prison which makes the community see prisoners as something other than what is on tv. It also shows that the people in this program can give something back to the community. Many of the staff and community members later adopt the trained dogs. Participants in this program keep a journal of their experience that is then transferred to the adoptive parents to be able to know their dog better.

A unique aspect of George’s program policies is that all prisoners have access to programming. He believes that limiting programming based on the length of the sentence does not treat the person.

Jody Lewen with Prison University Project

Jody joins correctional officer organizations and goes to their conventions to incorporate their worldview into their program’s training to better describe officers and how to work well within the prison environment.

She stated that officers are often vilified and demonized by outside volunteers. We need to listen and hear their concerns; provide eye contact, be aware of your body language, say hello, and reach out to staff as individuals and their professional organizations. Have conversations about education in prison with them.

Sean Pica with Hudson Link for Higher Education, Inc. 

I wasn’t able to take notes during Sean’s presentation, but check out their program! You can also watch some videos about their work on their vimeo channel.

National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Creating the Prison Classroom: From Policy to Practice

Below are my note from the session on Creating the Prison Classroom: From Policy to Practice. Some of my notes here are not as in depth, because this panel was so interesting to listen to! Take the time to check out their programs!

Brenda Dann-Messier, United States Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education

Brenda, being in a government, spoke to the audience as a government official, similar to a stump speech. While I could be more critical of what she had to offer, she did offer information about what the U.S. Education Department was doing for prison education. I would refer many people to check out their website and see what is available; especially the following:

Rebecca Ginsburg with Education Justice Project

Rebecca’s talk focused on creating a more humane learning environment in prison classrooms.

The biggest challenge we face in higher education in prisons is us; what we, outsiders going inside prisons, bring into our programs such as our attitudes and biases. Some of the ways to address these are to be aware of the following items:

  1. Micro-aggressions: These are subtle, demeaning insults against specific people that are verbal and often non-intentional. For example, if someone states “You are taking that too personally.”

  2. Cultural humility: This term is when one adopts a courious attitude with a humble approach to learn about others. This takes emphasis off of our own experiences. An example of lacking cultural humility is when you are speaking to a group of black men and you are telling them about what black men think.

No one works with a prison education program to hurt others feelings, but the question is: Can we come as we are? This is especially important if our privilege has never been challenged.

Suggestions to improve the learning environment is to create safe spaces where people can voice struggles and feelings, support difficult dialogues and the skills to talk about oppression, provide space to have such conversations, and build cultural humility.

Rob Scott with Productive Prison Landscapes Program of the Education Justice Project

Rob began his talk by introducing us to the higher education in prison list serve. He also made the clarification that though the conference had been using the term correctional center/institution we really mean prison, for our system is one that is clearly punishment focused and not one that has programs and services that really try to rehabilitate/correct those behind bars.

Rob introduced to many and encouraged to all the use of critical pedagogy in our work.

He also suggested that we reject and challenge sectarianism; Party A cannot liberate party B without party B’s involvement. We need to stop doing things to others but with others.

As we work together we need to reject positism. We can take a stance that it is not only recidivism that we focus on, because we also need to stress the importance of knowledge.

Keyes Stevens with Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project

Keyes project focuses on giving educational opportunities that giving educational opportunities that give students the insights to see that they are learners and that they can succeed in learning. See pictures from the project here (photos by Ann Hermes).

She stressed that we need to be just as compassionate to correctional staff as much as we are with our students.

With her program in Alabama, the DOC  as of a partner to her program as higher education institutions are to the point that they advocate for her program and have asked for it’s expansion.

National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Patience, Persistence and Programming: Starting and Sustaining a Prison Education Program

The first session of the conference was titled Patience, Persistence, and Programming: Starting and Sustaining a Prison Education Program and featured three coordinators / directors from different programs.

Emily Guenther with Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program

A unique aspect of this program is that it was started by undergraduate students.

One aspect of her presentation featured the paperwork that was required of her to solidify her program and provide courses for academic credit. The university she is affiliated with required her to prove the university students’ safety who volunteered with the program inside of the prison.

To do so, she asked a librarian for help with research to see if there was any information about violent acts happening upon prison volunteers. The librarian found no such documentation; the librarian then provided a statement on not finding any recording any incidents for Emily’s report. She also reached out to other prison higher education programs to see if there had ever been any incidents that have happened with their work; everyone said that no violent acts had happened to any volunteers. Emily then produced a document that featuring the lack of incidents to fulfill the university’s need of proof of safety.

Below is a past panel from this program:

Barbara Sherr Roswell with Goucher Prison Education Partnership

Barbara began her talk with sharing the many issues where we, doing work in prison education, struggle finding balance, such as – build it and they will come vs. build it to last; fly under the radar vs. show your achievements; provide intellectual courses vs. provide foundational courses; how much time spent in the prison vs. on campus; culture of campus and academia vs. culture of prison, etc. While these unique balancing issues exist, many of us face them and we need to talk about the issues to find methods to fulfill the needs of students and the mission of our programs.

She also stressed that key stakeholders in prison education – inside and outside of the prison, supporters and those leery of the program – to know who to ask questions when you are in need. For example, how to create the logistics of brining flash drives in and out of the prison.

Jenifer Drew with Boston University Prison Education Program

The Boston University Prison Education Program began in 1972 and is in two facilities (a men’s a women’s). Jennifer spoke on having the right relationship with the DOC (Department of Corrections) that is balanced with the controlled environment that the DOC has and the university’s environment that has more creative freeness. She highlighted a number of relationships that can be developed between universities and DOCs. Some of them are:

Outside: University runs education program

  • Pro: university is able to use their creativity in the program
  • Con: frustration in the suppression of academic integrity for the DOC to meet their security concern

Into: University enters DOC and teachers/tutors leave after their time

  • Pro: more people can enter prisons and experience education in prison
  • Con: since teachers/tutors leave after their time commitment, many people do not have the opportunity to see the whole process a student goes through

Between: University and DOC has an independent contractor that works with both agencies

  • Pros and cons: I had never heard of this model before, so I forgot to take notes on this section! But, this is how the Boston University Prison Education Partnership operates.

Former DOC: Former DOC employees run education program inside of prison

  • Pro: staff knows security issues and DOC rules

Jennifer asks us: What is your relationship like with the university? What is your relationship like with the DOC? What are to pros and cons you face?

A resource Jennifer suggested to all of us is Prison Study Project from Harvard which part of their project lists all higher education programs in the United States.

National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Welcoming

prison conferenceToday was the first day of the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. It has been absolutely amazing! I cannot wait to see what else the next two days have in store for us!

We were welcomed by Dean Dr. Jennifer Giancola of St. Louis University School for Professional Studies and champion for the university’s prison education program. Their education program is described as:

The Saint Louis University Prison Program offers an Associates of Arts degree to members of the ERDCC community through the School for Professional Studies.

Founded in 2008, the Prison Program initially offered a certificate in Theological Studies to fifteen men incarcerated at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Corrections Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre, MO. The first certificate class graduated in 2010.  A grant from the Hearst Foundation in 2010 enabled the Prison Program to offer an Associate of Arts degree to incarcerated persons and prison staff.  Students study aspects of society and culture; improve comprehension, speaking, and writing skills; think critically about their future; and develop competencies enabling incarcerated persons to reenter society with prospects for positive experiences, and staff to advance in their careers.

A unique aspect of their program is that the prison’s staff can also partake in the education program. She described that the staff were skeptical at first as to why they were offering them the chance at the program as well (wondering what the catch was), but now staff are embracing the program. Incarcerated students and staff who are students are usually taught separately with the exception of a few workshops, due primarily because of power / authority issues between staff and people behind bars.


A strategy provided to maintain a healthy relationship with prison administration was to have administrators come to the program to see how it operates. Many administrators have had a positive response to their visit and a dialogue about the education programs state would naturally be addressed.

A question asked to Dr. Giancola and other key leaders was how the program is justified, especially since two main arguments are commonly made: education is vital and is for everyone & education provides a safer prison atmosphere, reduces costs, and reduces recidivism. The answer given was that both are necessary to be used, because one or the other will strike someone as a rational to approve of, fund, or participate in the higher education programs.

Third Annual Conference on Higher Education in Prison – This April

prison conference

Check out this upcoming conference in April! Their conference schedule will be posted mid-February.

The Saint Louis University Prison Program will host the Third Annual National Conference on Higher Education in Prison (April 26-28, 2013); the central focus of the conference is “Building and Sustaining Programs”. This recently established annual conference is an occasion for college-in-prison program leaders scattered across the United States to meet and strategize with the intent of promoting and implementing higher education curricula in prisons across the country. The conference brings together academics and activists from across the country to meet and strategize about how to sustain and increase higher education experiences (for-credit and non-credit) in correctional facilities in the United States. Conference panels will include discussion of: pedagogy, post-release/reentry issues, fund-raising challenges, and the various models of education programs around the country.

conference picture

Hot Topics Dialogues: Incarcerated Sisters

Last week I had the opportunity to be on a panel for the Hot Topics Dialogues series focusing on issues women face in prison.

We discussed why women are incarcerated & what women were disproportionately behind bars, what dangers / risks women faced, women & family relations, programming  for women in prison, challenges women face, etc.

I was able to share what prison librarianship means behind bars, what the jail libraries look like for women in our local county jails, what women read, censorship, programs libraries offer, urban fiction, etc.

Below are some resources that were suggested at the panel:

Web Sources:

Print Sources:

Call for Submissions: Rethinking Prisons Conference 2013

Here is a call for submissions to a conference that might be of interest:

The Rethinking Prisons Conference 2013 will be held May 3 – 5, at Vanderbilt University,  in Nashville Tennessee.

This link brings you to their submission information.

At their conference, they aim to “The conference seeks to foster conversations between activists and scholars who share common concerns and bring different knowledge, methods, strategies and experience to the table” and  have the following points included in presentations and conversations:

(1) Intersections between the work of prison activists and research in political, literary, legal and social theory.
(2) Challenges faced by an activists seeking transformational alternatives to the U.S. prison system
(3) The promise and shortcomings of present death penalty and solitary confinement legislation
(4) The intersections of the U.S. prison system with race, gender, class, and sexuality.
(5) The intersections of the U.S. prison system with politics.

This conference is the final event of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Philosophy’s A Year of Rethinking Prisons, “an interdisciplinary series of events dedicated to rethinking criminality, incarceration, and state execution.”