WA Secretary of State Blogs

Dogs in the library, normalizing life for inmates.

Thursday, November 10th, 2016 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Dogs in the library, normalizing life for inmates.

From the desk of Jean Baker – Library Associate, Washington State Penitentiary

State Librarian Cindy Aden visiting the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center LibraryI was sitting in the office yesterday and someone pointed to the hallway and said, “Look at all of the puppies”.  I went out in the hallway and found about a dozen puppies spilling out of a basket and climbing over each other.  Standing around in a circle were about 10 grown men some with tattoos and ponytails cuddling, petting and cooing at the little canines thus erasing the stereotype of tough convicts with a few simple gestures.   The men told me they were about 3 weeks old and had every sort of coloring, black and white, brown and red, all brown, all white.

The men and the puppies are residents, some for a longer period than others of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (CCRC), a medium custody facility in Connell, WA.   One of the prized jobs at CRCC is to be a dog handler.  These men are very dedicated care-takers of their charges who are brought to the prison to receive training and socialization before being adopted out to families in the community.

This program is one of the many normalizing activities these inmates can experience to help them learn new behaviors and skills for when they can re-enter society.   I was very excited to see this interaction of inmates and puppies while visiting the CRCC library.  The library is located in the building where inmate programs are held and is a branch of the Washington State Library.   The Institutional Services program of the State Library operates libraries in nine prisons and 2 mental hospitals in Washington.

I am the Branch Library Associate at Washington State Penitentiary and my visit was to assist newly hired CRCC Branch Library Associate, Justin Dickson with some final details of his training.    The CRCC library is the newest and largest of the institutional libraries, opening in February 2009.  At any time there can be 50-60 inmates using the library for one-hour periods.  Justin has 4 inmate library clerks who handle patron customer service as well as shelving materials and keeping the collection in good order.

The library program at CRCC is another normalizing activities that is highly used and appreciated by the inmates.  It is a neutral, comfortable environment which provides the opportunity to pursue interests, learn something new, find recreational reading and prepare for re-entry to the world outside the prison walls.


Poetry on the Inside

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Poetry on the Inside

DSC_0028Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen recently held  poetry workshops for the inmates at both the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center and the Washington State Penitentiary. Washington State Library has an institutional library branch in each of these facilities and the workshops were held in our libraries.  You may not think a prison would be a place that was receptive of poetry but both reported successful programs.

​At the Washington State Penitentiary’s program nine inmates attended as well as a couple of teachers who dropped in.  The session lasted over two hours and all of the inmates participated in the discussion and asking questions.  ​ Ms. Austen started by reading poetry, including her own from her book “Every Dress a Decision”.   The inmates were enthusiastic and ready with questions and discussion about the poetry they heard.

After the reading they asked Ms. Austen  questions about her writing process and she talked about what can be learned about yourself while writing.   The men who attended the workshop also had a chance to read their own poetry and listened carefully as she gave them tips and feedback on the rewriting process to help them polish and refine their words.  DSC_0025

​Ms. Austen left some poetry books including a copy of her volume.  The inmates were very appreciative of the program and enjoyed the chance to meet her.  Apparently Ms. Austen equally enjoyed the chance to work with the inmates.  In a blog post she wrote about the events she said,

“My role in the workshops was to try to offer the same thing I hope to provide at workshops in libraries on the outside: the chance to read a few good poems together, and avail ourselves of poetry’s power to illuminate our lives and connect us to each other… The original poems they read aloud voiced regret and longing, struggles with anger and addiction, sorrow at lost connections to children, parents and spouses… As with any workshop, I can’t really know if what I did was useful to the participants. I hope so; I know it’s going to take me a while to assimilate the stories I heard through their poems and conversation.”

The program was sponsored by of Humanities Washington and ArtsWA, the Washington State Arts Commission. 

Patricia Briggs visits Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

Thursday, April 11th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Patricia Briggs visits Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

CRCC Program (2)23On April 9th, 2013, at the invitation of Library Associate Gayle Shonkwiler, Patricia  Briggs, author of the Mercy Thompson shapeshifter series, visited the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. The presentation was very well received and liked by the 30 inmates in attendance. Patricia read from her newest best seller “Frost Burned” which was just released in March.  After the reading she answered questions about everything from her books, how to write, how to get published and character development. Patricia thoroughly enjoyed her visit and donated the seven book series to the CRCC Branch Library.

Patricia Briggs website gives her perspective of her visit, so check it out.  Spoiler alert, she had a good time.

Book Drive to Benefit Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Friday, December 21st, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Book Drive to Benefit Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Gayle Shonkwiler and Jerry McGuire

Gayle Shonkwiler and Jerry McGuire

8ft bed of the truck was full.

8ft bed of the truck was full

Jerry McGuire of the Richland Rotary Club held a book drive for The Washington State Library at Coyote Ridge Correction Center in Connell Wa.  We received 100’s of books, all in great condition.  We want to Thank them for the efforts they took to help out libraries.

Donation from Mr. Jamie Ford to Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Donation from Mr. Jamie Ford to Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

Coyote Ridge received a generous, and special, donation of new books from author Jamie Ford today. Mr. Ford visited the prison last March as part of a Community Read program hosted by Washington State Library. Shortly after his reading, Mr. Ford decided to donate the remainder of his speaking fee, after travel fees were paid, back to the library in the form of a book donation. He asked the library staff at Coyote Ridge to submit a wish list, which was (of course) completed almost immediately. Everything on the list, plus extra dictionaries, was sent. Thank you so much, Mr. Ford! 

CRCC Community Read 2012

Friday, March 30th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 1 Comment »

Jamie Ford

The “community read movement” started in 1998 in Seattle and has gained popularity across the United States. I’ve been intrigued by them for many years. And while I hear about them all the time, I’ve never heard of one taking place inside a prison. So, last summer, I decided to organize one for Coyote Ridge. And it wasn’t easy, but I did it.

The book I decided to use was Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It has been translated into over 30 different languages. The setting is Seattle, and the book was recently selected for a community read in Pierce County, Washington, which is where I managed to get 45 used copies of the book.

Now, for those who don’t know, a community read is different from a regular book group in three ways, 1) it is open to an entire community, 2) it includes supplementary social events related to themes in the book of choice, and 3) it usually includes a guest appearance by the author. At first, I was unsure about how I would achieve that third piece. Without any programming funds available, I wasn’t sure how to entice this successful author, who lives in Montana, to come all the way to Connell, which is miles from any major airport and not exactly a late-night excitement kind of town. Upon contacting his agent, however, I found that they were eager to work with me if we could figure out a way to cover Mr. Ford’s travel expenses. In the end, I was only able to bring Jamie Ford in as a guest speaker by teaming up with a Humanities group at Washington State University’s Tri-City campus, and by a donation from the Friends of the Washington State Library. Finally, after months of planning and negotiating, Mr. Ford spent the evening of Wednesday, March 22, talking to inmates, reading from his book, and answering an endless stream of questions.

In addition to the guest author event, the library at Coyote Ridge hosted a jazz music appreciation event and a historical slide show about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, featuring images from Densho and Library of Congress digital archives.

My favorite memory from 2011 is all the running on the boulevard.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on My favorite memory from 2011 is all the running on the boulevard.

The idea that men around here will run to a library never fails to amaze me. They arrive, wheezing our names while holding up a hand, signaling us to wait a moment while they catch their breath in order to ask some burning question. The sound of books being dumped into the drop box outside the library initiates a vague sense of anxiety in my chest, as those who did not run fast enough are turned away. The officer’s voice on the radio: J323 to base, library at capacity. I’m never sure if my anxiety is for those who didn’t make it to the library this time, or for the next hour of madness I am almost surely about to endure. Time passes quickly while I am here. Many things happen that you probably would not see anywhere else. All the conversations, jokes, interesting questions, and situations that make me feel crazy all seem to fade over time. But this picture, this moment, when over a hundred men are running to a library, will stay with me forever


Virtual Reference in Prison

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Virtual Reference in Prison

Librarians at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center Shelton, and Washington State Penitentiary, have started using kiosks at their local institutions to send overdue notices and hold pickup notices to offenders. We are also answering questions submitted by offenders.  The result has been even better than expected!  At Coyote Ridge, we have drastically reduced our paper usage by sending the notices over the kiosk.  The new system is a win-win for staff and offenders alike; correctional officers don’t have to distribute the paper notices to individual offenders, and offenders get their notices instantly. Quicker delivery of notices may even shorten the time that high demand items will sit on the hold shelf, waiting to be retrieved.

 I have also noticed a growing volume of “electronic mail” (kiosk version) that we are receiving from offenders, now that they realize they can send messages to the library’s electronic mailbox.  I’ve received countless messages that simply thank us for our services, and some that make suggestions for improvement or ask us to purchase their favorite books and music.  They also ask questions about library policies and ask us to check their accounts for overdue items, and attempt to resolve item return issues over the kiosk. 

The beauty of this new system is, to me, three-fold: 1) offenders are learning how to communicate effectively in an electronic world, a skill that is critical for successful re-entry, 2) conflict resolution is handled in writing, rather than face-to-face, which may encourage both parties to think about what they say before they say it, and 3) both offenders and staff are able to communicate in a much more efficient and organized way.  I can send messages to multiple offenders at once, and I can send them instantly rather than waiting 1-4 days for mail delivery and response time.  I can also answer questions in batches, rather than responding immediately every time someone has a question the library clerks can’t answer, and without asking offenders to wait in line at the counter to talk to a staff person. I can’t help but think this is the prison equivalent of virtual reference, and that is exciting!