Sunday, January 2, 2011

Prison Librarian Shares His Experiences In “The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian”

Particularly among crime victims and their families, the issue of prison can evoke a visceral response. The desire to put together a forbidding punitive environment for society’s malefactors is a compelling drive for many. Avi Steinberg worked for two years as a librarian in the Suffolk County House of Correction at South Bay, Massachusetts, running the library and supervising prisoners who assisted in its operation. In his book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.”, he provides many humanising portrayals of prisoners who ran and used the library that he ran.

The library in prison had the feel of its counterpart in the free world, with the notable difference that it lacked internet connections. Steinberg portrayed various people whose lives were touched by the library, such as Fat Kat, a man who was serving time for drug dealing who ended up developing a side of himself as a librarian that was instrumental in his rehabilitation. Another inmate he portrayed was a woman with a child who was living with relatives who had never been to a library outside of prison. So inspired was she by her experiences as a library patron that she promised to make a weekly visit with her daughter to the library upon her release.

Steinberg also portrayed other more peculiar aspects of the prison library, such as prisoners leaving each other messages in between the pages of books. Some people only came for movies and pimp biographies. Despite some of the less inspired uses for the prison library, Steinberg showed clearly how the world of the written word could elevate people who had forfeited their freedom to the state.

Most prisoners will return to society, and Steinberg makes a compelling case for introducing rehabilitative influences into the prison environment.

Read more about Steinberg and his book on Sphere: Related Content

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