Sudden Death to Jail Libraries Spares Popular Book Groups
Providing no reason for the decision, Sheriff Clarke closed the Correctional Facility Central (Jail) Library on November 1, 2009. The library operations at the Correctional Facility South (House of Correcion) ceased December 31, 2009.
The closings caught the Benedict Center and librarians by surprise. The Benedict Center created the jail library in 1992 when the jail opened, after years of pushing a book cart through the old jail in the Safety Building and worked with administrators at the House of Correction to create a bright and spacious library in former administrative office space.
Ellen Pellegrin established and ran the jail library for the Benedict Center until her retirement seven years ago, when Eric Beaumont joined the staff to manage the library. At the South facility, Sue Harrington started the library for the Benedict Center, ultimately contracting on her own to manage the library and oversee inmate workers who diligently worked in the library and helped dorm residents select books biweekly.
The former library space at both facilities has been emptied of purchased and donated collections exceeding 18,000 titles. Books have been shifted to locked rooms on jail housing pods and shelving in the dorms at the South facility.
Although there is no longer a library at the jail, Benedict Center volunteer Elizabeth Vogt continues to keep inmates reading.
Vogt initiated the Jail Book Club (JBC) in 2008, through which reading discussion and writing about literature creates the basis for shared ideas and multiple perspectives. With authors as diverse as Nelson Mandela, George Orwell and Khaled Hosseini, the ever-evolving groups delve into historical works, fiction and satire.
"Discussions at the JBC, frankly, easily rival those in my ladies' book club on the outside," Vogt says. "We debate the conflicts of individual and collective interests, the overwhelming nature of many challenges in life and how similar human issues human issues are around the world. We talk about the strange and dramatic turns that the paths of life can take - leading to delight as well as disaster. These JBC discussions can be profound or profane, sometimes humorous - but are always interesting."
Vogt is considering creating a network via newsletter or Internet to keep the conversation going after inmates leave. Additional volunteers are leading groups as the JBC stretches to a goal of a club in every housing pod. Volunteer Janet Martin offers unintimidating, one-on-one discussion in another version of the JBC. For more information or to volunteer for the JBC, contact Mary Pat Utech at (414) 347-1774, ext. 205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.