A librarian’s view of working the book cart at Rikers Island.
Getting books back from the prisoners and letting them pick out new ones is a bit of controlled chaos. We stood outside the iron door to the house with our cart and had two prisoners come out at one time, check off their returned book, and pick out a new one. Each prisoner is allowed one book and one magazine. The most popular books are by far James Patterson’s novels, so popular in fact that we have to lock them up after book service because they tend to disappear. I wonder if James Patterson has any idea. National Geographic is the magazine of choice, and there is an entire box of them to choose from, some as far back as the early 80’s.
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For the past five years, artist Jackie Sumell has been helping Herman Wallace, who has been in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for the last 34 years, design his dream house, a house that will probably never be built. “Traces of a prison mindset crop up. When the placement of his computer meant his back would face the office door, Ms. Sumell said that he asked that a mirror be installed above, so he could see anyone entering the room. A sense of security is important to him, she explained. The master bedroom sits safely above the very center of the house. A wraparound porch adds a layer of perimeter, as does the surrounding garden. There is even a special door leading to an underground bunker, equipped with its own water supply.” A book on the project is available for a $20 donation and this PDF gives a good overview of the project.