Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Prison library patrons

Grace Schroeder, Librarian at Patuxent Institution

Who are my patrons? Murderers, rapists, pedophiles, robbers, drug dealers who come from a variety of backgrounds. Statistics show, however that majority arrive in prison reading below grade levels, from lower socio economic backgrounds, and have learning disabilities.

When I first pushed my library cart into the cell block, they gathered around curious about my 'accent', wanting to know where I am from. A few times I replied, "Planet earth."

One evening on the cell block, I saw a woman whom I assumed was a prison volunteer. My face must have registered shock when she came to the cart and I realized it was a male inmate. A group of inmates who was watching me burst into laughter when they saw my face. I quickly recovered my library face.

The men wanted popular reading materials. It was in prison that I learned about authors like Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim. was constant demand for these authors as well as books on love poetry.

The inmates make greeting cards out of any material they could find and they inserted the love quotes in the cards and mail them to people outside.

Was I scared? No. They behaved more respectfully than many of the persons I encountered in public libraries. They were also grateful for the reading materials and for any information questions that I answered. In a way, the library was their lifeline. They escaped through reading and the knowledge they gained became a sort of power base. Most important it was the information they received from the prison libraries that helped them in their attempt to get back into the courts, hoping for reduction in sentencing

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