Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Education Justice Project (EJP)’s open house at the Danville Correctional Center (DCC). It is at their EJP library in which I hope to be able to complete half of my practicum and spend 50 hours in my final semester working in their library.
There are two libraries in DCC, the EJP’s library (only EJP students have access to) and the prison library (the past librarian Liz Robson just retired – learn more about her at: Prison Reference Services On Little Finding – A Perspective From 20 Years Ago).
This visit was my first in a prison facility. Besides being in a rural part of the state and on a much larger scale, it felt similar to the jail setting setting. Most of our time was spent in the classrooms or the library. One of the other visitors stated at the end of our visit that he kept forgetting he was in a prison until he noticed that everyone’s shoes/shirts where the same color, a guard would past the door, etc. and these realizations would pull him back to reality to the space we were in.
We were able to visit two of the four four-credit classes that was in session that night. I sat in on a class about sustainability and one that had a new visiting scholar every week on various topics.
The classroom in which the sustainability class was held had more technology than I had expected to see. There was a projector, computer, speakers. Across the hall was a computer lab. Later I was told that the library also has to offer 10 laptops (out of 15, for 5 are not in working condition).
The 2nd class I observed is a Discovery class where each week is a different them and guest lecturer. The week’s theme I was able to see was hip-hop feminism with scholar, Ruth Brown, Ph, D. The students explored her work Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader.
After this class I asked a gentleman to catch me up to speed on what happened in the first half of the class, for I saw mostly Q and A. He had read Wish to Live three times, asked specifically to have Ruth Brown come to their class, and he wants a degree in Women’s Studies. Over the summer they had a gender/women’s studies reading group that has now formed into a feminist club! A feminist club in a men’s prison! This student was so excited and enthralled in the topic of Women’s Studies and had so much to say that I barely got a word in! 🙂 He shared parts of his life experience, especially how women’s studies opened his eyes in part because he has two daughters and how he wants his girls to be treated. Knowing what he wanted for his girls led him to examine how he treats all women, which then led him to examine patriarchy, the oppression of women, & intersections of race and class.
So, later in the week when I was at a book sale that profited an organization that helps prisoners have access to books, I scooped up all of the books on women, girls, and race that were contemporary. One that I got that I hope they will enjoy is YELL-Oh Girls! Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American.
When I went to pay for the books I found, the librarian working the sales table said, “Looks like you have some heavy reading.” I told her that they were not for me, they were for the EJP’s library for the feminist club to read. The librarian’s response was something along the lines of: “Well, who do they put in that club? All of the wife beaters?” and then went on to say something else about turning men into women.
What!?!? I was super upset that I didn’t know how to respond. I felt that her response devalued the students’ interests and experiences.
My experience so far with the EJP so far has showed me that their program offers a space where critical and free thought is welcomed and encouraged, a space of growth, and a space where students behind bars’ lives and voices are not only heard but are deeply valued.
I hope that my work fosters a similar environment and my patrons will know that they are valued.