Institutional Libraries use poetry to promote community

Institutional Libraries use poetry to promote community

A couple weeks ago, a patron of our library at Clallam Bay Corrections Center told me, “I’m not even a reader, but this is a place where I always feel safe.” Sentiments like these, along with brilliant inquires, ideas, and authenticity, inspire me to create innovative programs and challenge me to provide the best services possible in an institutional library setting.

Poetry Day at Clallam Bay Corrections Center

On April 25, Washington State Library’s Institutional Library Services held its first ever Poetry Day, in which institutional libraries across the state participated in the same event to harness the power that poetry holds for our unique populations.

During this event, people were asked to write and read their original work, as well as contribute to a communal poem. Over 135 people attended this first annual event!

At Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) alone thirty-eight people attended. Each person was eager to participate and wanted to engage with others to expand their original works and to listen in the space the library offers.

One evaluation states, “I felt as if some of us could drop the prison tuff guy act for just a minute or two.” This was the overall sentiment conveyed; using the space to be vulnerable and emotional while being safe and collaborative is necessary.

Clallam Bay inmates at Poetry Day

People enjoyed seeing others convert their life struggles and experiences into art. To be able to host a space that provides this, when the average day is filled with tension of some kind, greatly alters the overall atmosphere and provides connections between people who would not normally interact with each other.

It was not the only celebration of poetry that Institutional Library Services helped host during April, which was National Poetry Month.

Poet Thy Nguyen visits the Washington Corrections Center for Women

Our Ken McDouall, of the Institutional Library Services branch in Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, reports:

Thy Nguyen

The Washington State Library branch at Washington Corrections Center for Women was pleased to have a local poet visit on April 27 to present a poetry workshop and host an open mic event for our library patrons.

Thy Nguyen, Tacoma’s Poet Laureate for 2015-2017, came for the third consecutive year to engage with aspiring poets in the prison.

Ms. Nguyen, a queer, first-generation Vietnamese immigrant, has called herself an “artivist.” She uses spoken word and song to express ideas and emotions related to social justice and community organizing. Her website  is at

Thy Nguyen reads to WCCW inmates

During her program at the WCCW Library, Ms. Nguyen inspired a group of 24 inmates with readings from Maya Angelou, transgender writer and activist Janet Mock, and an account of sexual harassment that resonated with stories heard from the #Metoo movement.

Participants wrote and responded to these writings, and then had a chance to read their own poetry before their peers.

The library and its patrons are grateful to Ms. Nguyen for her time and enthusiasm, and look forward to having her back in the future.

Creating poetry for publication

At the Clallam Bay event, Institutional Library Services received over twenty submissions to our anthology of poetry, Percipience, which is published by The Office of the Secretary of State. It is an honor to facilitate projects and programs which further encourage and illuminate our patrons’ voices.

On behalf of the patrons of the Clallam Bay Corrections Center State Library Branch, I will be submitting the communal poem that was created to Percipience as well.

Multiple custody levels from seven different living units added to this poem to represent the many voices that make up our patron base.

The poem reads as follows:

An inmate works on poetry

I Thank My Younger Self

When fractions made you cry,

I’m happy you kept studying

I thank myself for pulling

Through, for graduating high school

Though times were hard, It’s a blessing you made it this far

If I had a chance, to go back a dozen years

I’d pat myself on the back, for pushing past the fears

I’d thank myself for standing strong

Through all the ups and downs

For I wouldn’t be the man I am today

So I am thankful for then and now.

Put your mind to it, believe you can do it

Give into your god and he will lead you the right way

I Thank My Younger Self

I thank you for doing wrong when you knew to do right. Though you knew better, doing better,

Would have stunted your process

For finding the strength to excel

When so many around you failed. . .

For not allowing those to break, bend, or make you

Their thoughts and ill motives will never shape you

The times were good,

The times were bad,

But the little things were all you had

Thanks for making so many mistakes

Thanks for not knowing it was time to hit the brakes

Thanks for showing me how much time it takes

To learn how much good can come from what bad makes

Thank you for respecting your elders and adhering

To their words of wisdom that helps you survive the

Streets and have confidence, strength and love for yourself and others

I’ve experienced death

I’ve experienced life

But one thing that I will never experience is regrets

I had you there to stand by me so I could stand tall

I’m grateful for each day you gave me

Cause you never let me fall

I Thank My Younger Self

Thank you for remembering to dream

For marking your scars with hope

For waiting to find your power when in hell

— From the desk of Troi Gale, Library Associate, Clallam Bay Corrections Center

Funded in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act. 

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One thought on “Institutional Libraries use poetry to promote community

  1. Since the 1960’s Washington State Library’s Institutional Library Services and its dedicated staff have made a big difference to the inmates of DOC and patients at ESH and WSH. I will never forget my 22 years at ESH, Lakeland Village and WSH.

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