WA Secretary of State Blogs

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. 

Our Prison Libraries help inmates to re-enter society

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Our Prison Libraries help inmates to re-enter society

8702897202_7ca303552d_z On February 24, 2015 Library Associate Jean Baker participated in a “Help and Program Fair” at The Washington State Penitentiary.   This is an annual event with the intent of reinforcing positive changes in the prison environment and is held in response to the establishment of the Group Violence Reduction Strategy.   The purpose of this event is to present all of the programs available to inmates and to help them choose different and more productive paths while serving their sentences.   This year about forty inmates attended the Fair.  Facility officials gave opening remarks and the various guests and programs were introduced.    Those included education classes in basic skills, life skills, bookkeeping, and trade education.  Other programs centered on helping inmates establish a pathway for success included Redemption, Inside Dads, Toastmasters, Dog Training, and the Sustainable Practices Lab.  After introductions the inmates were free to visit the presenter tables to ask questions and get printed information.

Representing the library, Jean attended this program and presented information about how the inmates can utilize the library’s resources.   Prison libraries provide access for inmates to books, magazines and newspapers, a service that is highly appreciated by the inmates.    The goal of the librarians is to help inmates find  resources to help their re-entry into society.   The library maintains an extensive collection of re-entry materials on Housing, Education, Health and Benefits, Veterans issues, and Directories.   The Prison Libraries consider this an essential service, to provide inmates with learning options and information to assist them with transitioning to their lives outside the institution.

In our recent “Essential Needs Survey” the staff and the inmates of our prison libraries were very vocal in their support for their libraries here are a few comments we received:

 “The State Library is essential for prison safety.  Offenders who spend time reading are less likely to be behavioral problems.  The need for services for our disabled prisoners is essential as are the resources needed to for offenders to engage in self-help through literature.”

“Many young women have never been in an environment safe enough to read openly about anything they wish with no condemnation or ridicule. This alone should justify our library.”

“I am an inmate at a Washington correction center and the library has always been my favorite place to spend time looking up information on ancient civilizations, and as an inmate it provides a very special distraction for the inmate. I believe in libraries so strong I work in the library. It also provides a calming effect to those who seek a quiet place to study.”

“I’d like it to be known that I’ve acquired an AA degree, 52 credits from Peninsula College and several credits from Centralia College – all while incarcerated. However, I’ve learned more from the books I get in the library (often ILL as well) that all of my college education combined.”

“I am a patron in correctional facility and I can personally say without the library we would not be able to improve ourselves. We have access to countless educational tools to improve ourselves and become upstanding community members. They also help reduce the violence because many people use the library to be better people.”

Clearly our Prison Libraries are highly prized by both the staff and the inmates they serve.






Reflections from WSP Library, July 2013

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 2 Comments »

West Complex Library

West Complex Library

My job in the Washington State Library Branch at the Washington State Penitentiary has exposed me to an area of librarianship I never would have thought I was suited for.   When I started at the penitentiary library I was green as they say but over the last five years I’ve learned a lot about how to provide library resources to a unique population of individuals.  The inmates are from many situations in their lives and those who take advantage of coming to the library will tell you some of their situation in words, attitudes, and how they present themselves away from the confines of life in a prison cell.

The younger ones, teenagers some of them, who have only experienced street life or lack of parent involvement come in to see other inmates but also are learning that what they can get from reading a magazine or newspaper, even a book, can help them see another way to go in their life choices.

Older men who come know the value of having something to entertain and motivate them to get out of the cell environment for a while.  They look for novels, westerns, books in history, philosophy, religion.  One inmate has asked for books on mindfulness and awareness of spirituality which he said might help him find meaning to his life.

A lot of patrons thank me in various ways for helping them find a book or providing information from the internet that answers a question or fulfills an interest on a subject they want to know more about.  One request for an explanation of the longitude and latitude of the world found in the encyclopedia was just what he wanted to know.  Another request for speeches by famous people resulted in the inmate confiding that he was spending his time learning to recite the important words written by Americans throughout history.

By far the most surprising encounter I have had is with a small Korean man who comes to find instruction books in learning English.  When I talk to him, he understands a lot, but speaking is hard for him.    But, the best communication we have each time he comes in is silent but effective. If I catch sight of him coming in the door I might acknowledge him with a wave or nod my head.  But every time, he stops, and bows to me.   I suppose that is a common action in his culture on the other side of the world, but to experience it in a small library in Eastern Washington placed in a prison says more than any words of appreciation that could be spoken.

More importantly what I learn and appreciate from talking and helping has opened a new world view to me.

Typical Year at WSP

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Typical Year at WSP

Office at WSP-EC

It was a typical year for both of the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) Branch Libraries, the East-Complex (EC) and the West-Complex (WC).

In January 2011, our newest Library Associate, Molly Mooney had been on the job for 4 months.  Her training was going well and she enthusiastically participated in special projects:  working with our ILS Wiki pages and Library-Snapshot day.  In March the WC was open full-time again for the first time since February of 2010 and everyone was happy.  In April we said good-by to Molly when she decided to leave ILS.  The WSP libraries were back on half-time schedules.   With all of the going to and fro between EC and WC, Jean still wasn’t getting enough exercise and had to join the gym.

By May we had applicants for the vacant position at WC and in June Laura, Melisa, and Jean interviewed candidates.  In July Matt Roach accepted the position and was at WSP for two days before starting CORE in early August.  Matt was also a very enthusiastic new employee and training was well underway when ILS received the bad news. 

After nearly 30 years of operation the EC Library was being closed.  Jean’s position was going away which resulted in very bad news for Matt, who lost his job.  Even so, Matt gallantly worked through October and November to help pack up the EC collection.   His last day at WSP was November 30th.   The day before that he accepted a job at the State Library, so everyone was happy about that.

The EC library closed for good on November 30, 2011.    When it was all over about 2/3 of the collection had been packed up.  The rest was left for WSP to distribute to the Minimum units.   Using a golf cart pulling a trailer, WSP staff made several trips between EC and WC to move all of the boxes of books, library furniture and equipment which took up every available space in the WC library storage room.  

Now begins the work of unpacking, sorting and cataloging materials for WC.   Here’s hoping the year 2012 will be just as typical as 2011 was.

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!

Piano anyone?

Friday, August 19th, 2011 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Piano anyone?

Working in prison libraries, we spend time answering “kites” from inmates in the locked units.  These kites are usually pretty basic reference questions, but every once in awhile we get one that just make us laugh.  Recently one such request was received at the Washington State Penitentiary, from an inmate in the Intensive Management Unit.  The information he requested was pretty straight forward until the last line …   kite……He got the information he wanted but security concerns prevented library staff from doing more!

ILS Library Snapshot Day

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on ILS Library Snapshot Day

ILS Library Snap Shot DayThe Washington State Library’s Institutional Library Services (ILS) team hosted their very own Library Snapshot Day yesterday (1/11/11). Photos and stories from the event are being posted on Facebook, and you can find them under: ILS Library Snap Shot Day.

Photos and stories are rolling in from institutions across the state, including: Washington State Reformatory, Western State Hospital, Washington State Penitentiary (East and West complexes), Clallam Bay Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women, Eastern State Hospital, and the Stafford Bay Correction Center.

Check them out now over on Facebook.

While you’re over there, check out our other WSL Facebook pages:

Jail Cell or Office?

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Jail Cell or Office?

Most of the time working in a prison library does not feel like a prison. However, this can no longer be said for those working at the Washington State Penitentiary, East Complex Library. For years staff have been asking for an office to be built in the library that will allow staff to have a computer with Internet access readily available to use. Over the years road blocks have jumped up at every turn, this is no longer the case. East Complex Library now has an office in the library, but did they have to make it so prison like? You be the judge.

Office or cell???

Office or cell???