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:

Volunteered at a New Jail Library…

Last night I volunteered at a new jail library (our community has two jail sites in town). The site that I was at last night holds about 100 less people, women compared to all men and the men that are there are confined to their cells for longer periods of time due to the severity of the crimes they are accused of.

Instead of going into a lobby to be buzzed in, I walked to the loading deck that had a large steal door and waited with my new mentor in a very small area. Once inside, it was much noisier than the other site – inmates yelling, guards shouting out commands, doors slamming shut. Maybe the library was closer to where the inmates are housed, but I don’t even think that the doors at the other site even mad their slamming / locking noise.

Patrons came in smaller groups, two to four at a time. The female patrons were definitely  a different pace. They seemed to talk more about what they enjoyed reading and were more direct about their information needs. This site holds much more psychology and self-help due to the high demand from the women. Men preferred browsing, which was a highly desired way to use at the other site’s library too. At this site the men bantered more with the guards compared to the other site, but let patrons have a fully allotted time in the library even though they were recently put on lock down. At the other site,  guards talked about similar reading interests, talk about what they did on their time off, and also shortened library time / hurried patrons when they were aggravated.

I asked for the women’s opinion on an Urban Fiction collection development list I’ve been working on for the jail libraries. They offered additional authors then the men at the other site did. Some of their authors included:

  • Darlene Johnson – more of contemporary black fiction
  • Nichelle Walker
  • Cupcake Brown – memoir
  • Shelia E. Lipsey
  • E. Lynne Harris
  • Keisha Ervin

They got the most excited for Nichelle Walker, especially due to the popularity and excitement around her novel, Doing His TimeI was told that no matter who you are – man or woman, frequent reader or hate to read – everyone will read this novel. They shared their memories of one woman who was known as more of a trouble maker, a definate non-reader, enjoying the novel. A group of women realized they hadn’t seen her all day. When they found her she was on her top bunk of her bed. They asked what she was doing; she replied that she was reading. READING!? They were flabbergasted that this novel would engage her and Doing His Time furthered its reputation for being for anyone!

I couldn’t believe the difference in patrons and atmosphere at this library. I’m looking forward to working with the women more and learning about how they use the library compared to the men I usually interact with.