The Library sent me to jail this week.
Yesterday, I visited the Calgary Remand Centre. What is a Remand Centre, you ask? (I had to!) A Remand Centre is a pre-trial detention centre. It houses people who are waiting for court decisions on their charges or placement in correctional centres.
The library visits female inmates at the Remand Centre once a month. My boss thought it would be a good experience for me, so she arranged to have me tag along.
The building itself was one of the most depressing places I've ever been -- truly institutional. But the inmates themselves were much different that I'd expected. My boss told me I should "be prepared to be uncomfortable." But all of the women who attended were pleasant, friendly, and generally appreciative of our visit. My colleague, the librarian, explained that for many female inmates, jail isn't as a bad as where they've come from. They're safe, they have a warm place to sleep, they're being fed nutritious meals, and they're not being abused or attacked. Also, in their eyes, "library time" equals "free time" and extra time out of their cells. No wonder they're smiling.
We decided to read aloud a few children's books as many of the women have kids. I never imagined I'd be reading aloud The Pigeon Wants A Puppy in prison, but there I was. Next, we asked for volunteers to read aloud a few of the other picture books we'd brought with us. Literacy is typically low for women who are incarcerated. The librarian mentioned that she likes to have them read aloud because it helps them to build their confidence. Not only are the picture books easy to read, but it also encourages them to read aloud to their own children when they are released.
Overall, it was a very eye-opening experience. It helped me understand better where these women are coming from, and to look at them with less judgmental eyes. Also, it reemphasized for me why I am so passionate about public libraries. I saw firsthand, that the public library can and does make a difference in these women's lives.