Retired Librarians Set Up Library for Juveniles in Prison
Juveniles serving sentences in adult prisons are discovering they love to read, thanks to passionate dedication of librarians wanting to Invest in the Young.
Rodolfo was 15 when Edward Davis, a St. Luke's UMC, Houston member was asked to mentor him through the reVision program. “At the start of their mentoring relationship, my husband said Rodolfo was not a reader,” says Suzanne Davis, a former high school librarian. All that changed once he read the first book in the Left Behind series that Edward brought to him. He then read all the rest of the books in the series very quickly and the hunt was on to find books Rodolfo would love to keep reading. “Rodolfo was an inspiration to both of us because, by the end of their year together, we were ordering several books at a time to send to him.” Notes Suzanne, “This was the seed for me personally, to pursue a library for these teens at the Clemens Unit.”
The youth at the Clemens unit are the only group of juveniles serving time in an adult prison in Texas. There are about three dozen 14- to-17-year-olds at the Clemens Unit, built in 1888, living two to a 6’x10’ cell with no air conditioning or heat. Most of these teens are serving sentences that range from four years to life.
Many of these youth have reVision mentors, and other mentors have been sending books to them, hoping that it would provide an escape and a motivation for the youth during their time in prison. “To our great surprise,” shares Charles Rotramel, CEO of reVision, “many of them--who generally have never read a book before--discovered that they love to read. They have begun asking for dozens of books of all different types -- including spiritual books.”
Suzanne has since rallied former librarians Jo Monday, a St. Luke’s member and friend Pat Sebastian to help brainstorm ways to Invest in the Young in this unique way. Jo retired from HISD as a librarian and serves on the Mental Health Mental Retardation board of directors and is also one of the mentors working with a youth in juvenile detention.
In her retirement, Jo is self-employed as a librarian organizer for private individuals with large book collections and she also tutors children. Adds Suzanne, “At lunch one day, I was sharing with my librarian friend Pat about the project and unknown to me she had a best friend's son in prison that she had been writing to. Since then, she has become an integral part of the committee.”
“Collectively, these librarians have all worked with at-risk youth in their former jobs and fully understand how life-changing it can be to become a reader,” shares Charles. “For young offenders, books can be the only windows on the world they might experience. Books offer new insights and new thoughts at a critical time in their development. Being bored is a big issue with youth in general and it is a major problem for young offenders. Reading can calm, entertain, challenge, add humor, educate, and greatly enlarge their world.”
Leading by Example
The retired librarians are now part of the newly formed reVision Library Committee with a passionate Suzanne Davis at the helm. Adds Charles, “These ladies collectively have almost 75 years of experience working in high school libraries, and they have thrown themselves into this work. They have singlehandedly created a list of several hundred books, gotten that list approved and obtained approval for the entire project from the Texas Department of Correctional Justice.”
Additionally, the trifecta of librarians has solicited donations to cover the cost of all the books, and they are developing elaborate procedures for maintaining and refreshing the library so that the youth constantly have access to challenging materials. Adds Charles, “After the books are purchased in one order this summer, the ladies will go down there to set up and organize the library. They are a true inspiration, made all the more significant because they are so unlikely to be the ones leading a project for teens in prison. Furthermore, they have been putting in herculean efforts to see this project through.”