By Billy Mitchell
I’ve always been under the impression that literature has the power to change the way we think. We always seem to hear people toss around the idea that some piece of art can change lives, yet I’ve always been skeptical of this notion. My way that I understood it, was that while experiencing a piece of art can work to change our lives, it works in conjunction with other factors; almost as a vehicle for the change as opposed to the motivator for change.
But as I think more on this subject, where does the power to change lives exist, if not in our own minds? If a piece of art causes us to think differently, isn’t it, in a sense, changing our life?
Let’s be clear with something. I’m not talking a massive, move-into-the-forest-and-live-off-the-land or suddenly take up an Eastern religion, change. I am not stating that reading a life-changing book means that we have to alter our lives in some large way. I’m talking about smaller—but pronounced—changes that take place in our minds; changes in how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we think about a certain situation or about morality or mortality. These characters’ interactions or these settings or situations that we read about slowly begin to take shape and create meaning within us, if we let them. While it may be too romantic or grandiose to come out and say: “This book changed my life,” it really isn’t that off-base. In fact, I don’t feel it is at all. Because small changes lead to big ones.
I had difficulty coming up with a concise list of books that have changed my life. Because, as I’ve been saying, these changes are not immense. They are small, sometimes miniscule shifts in consciousness. Without reflection, they can go unnoticed.
Without bringing my whole Kindle library into the picture, I’ve included two books that I can confidently say have changed the way I think. I’m sure I’m not alone in these choices.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.
Some pretty important people have claimed Kerouac’s rambling, methamphetamine- driven scroll has changed their lives. I first read On the Road in high school and I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I knew what I was reading was good (whatever that means) but I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what was being said.
In its most stripped-down sense, On the Road is a novel about a character in the 1950’s who travels across the country. The plot revolves around Sal Paradise, his group of friends and a number of different characters that he meets in his travels in the United States and then in his final journey to Mexico City. Holding the story together is Dean Moriarty, Sal’s delinquent friend, a representation of the Road itself.
What always catches me while reading this book is the definition of “The Road.” During my first read, I thought of it as exactly what it is: a literal representation of a road, a means in which you travel from point A to point B. But “The Road” that is so important to Sal—who, of course, is a fictional representation of Kerouac himself—is really a physical manifestation of a symbol. The Road, “The Holy Road,” is the ability for us to change our way. The Road gives us the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. The road is a means of living, as opposed to merely existing.
I’m not really in the business of recommending books, but if I was, you bet I’d be recommending this one. It may not get you to stand up and hitchhike across the country…but then again, it just might.
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.
In the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook,” a manic Bradley Cooper has this great scene where he has just finished reading A Farewell to Arms, and proceeds to throw the paperback out the window.
“I mean, the world’s hard enough as it is, guys,” he screams at his parents, the father played by Robert Deniro. “Can’t somebody say, ‘Hey, let’s be positive. Let’s have a good ending to the story?’”
His mother then tells him that he owes them an apology for waking them up at four o’clock in the morning to talk about the ending of a book.
“Mom, I can’t apologize. I’m not gonna apologize for this. You know what I will do? I’ll apologize on behalf of Earnest Hemingway. Because that’s who’s to blame here.”
I won’t lie. I had a relatively similar reaction to the ending of this novel. Although it has been described as Hemingway’s “bleakest” novel in its depictions of the horrors of war and the soldiers that partake in it, the moments of brightness that come through are what create something memorable. That, as Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” This is the truly amazing sentiment.
I think this aspect of brightness in a novel that is mostly dark is best summed up in a dialogue between Frederic Henry, the protagonist and Catherine Barkley, his nurse and the woman he loves:
“And you’ll always love me, won’t you?”
“And the rain won’t make any difference?”
By Courtney Gordner
Dystopian societies overrun by vampires, androids and zombies have been infecting our brains with late-night, page-turning cliffhangers. Unforeseen heroes and “knights in shining armor” charm our daydreams and engage us as we hang on to every image and detail. In a world full of blockbuster book series–Twilight, The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Harry Potter–people everywhere are buzzing about the rush you get from reading a book.
Why not go back then, and shed some light on those who started this whole science-fiction and fantasy craze? Believe it or not, classic authors have been toying with these same subjects long before ideas of new societies and worlds became mainstream. These “originals” were all at one point were considered “taboo” because their content was so avant-garde. If you like what’s hot today in literature, you should absolutely crack open some of these classics. They will not disappoint.
1. Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
(If you enjoy reading novels like Roth’s Divergent, Kacvinsky’s Awaken or Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.)
Banned Books Week is typically held the last week in September by the American Library Association, and this classic was banned due to its questionable themes and language. If you’re interested in reading about societal pressures and the fight for freedom of expression and intellect, this is the perfect book for you.
Guy Montag, a firefighter trained to burn books, comes across a young girl that changes his world forever. As she shows him a life full of free thought and beauty in words, he begins to see a world outside of government control; a world full of love, freedom and hope.
2. 1984- George Orwell
(If you enjoy reading novels like Collin’s The Hunger Games or Cline’s Ready Player One.)
Coincidentally enough, Orwell wrote this classic in 1948, prophesying the future and what he envisioned the world to be in 1984. He invented the idea of “Big Brother” and how the government can control a society and the ability to have free thought. This is a great read that paints a picture of concepts way ahead of his time.
The story follows a lower-class man, Winston, who works at the Ministry of Truth altering historical events to meet “The Party’s” needs. He receives a strange note from a young girl that says “I love you,” and he begins to question his place in the world. Writing his “crimes” or thoughts in his notebook, his oppression changes from subtle to oblivious. Another portrayal of human independence and freedom, Orwell captivates his audience at each page turn.
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream- William Shakespeare
(If you enjoy reading novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.)
Definitely not the typical romance novel, this classic play really captures the impulsive side of love and puts a satirical twist on “soul mates.” Shakespeare comments on how blindly and easily humans fall in love by showcasing a mash-up of love triangles that will confuse even the reader. However, with his fun quips, the characters extreme personalities will be sure to keep you in stitches.
4. Frankenstein- Mary Shelley
(If you enjoy reading novels such as Harry Potter, World War Z or Marion’s Warm Bodies.)
Contrary to the popular story of the horror movie giant, Shelley’s Frankenstein monster has a completely different outlook on life. Born into hatred and destruction, this novel commentates on society’s focus on appearances. Through the monster’s journey in understanding his place in the world, he is betrayed and cast-aside by society, allowing the reader to sympathize with him and see that he is truly a misunderstood creature. Shelley brings to life something we can constantly learn from today: humanity.
Even though our classics have a date that sets them back in time, they are timeless. The values and lessons that these books teach their readers are even relatable in the 21st century. Not only do they educate us on the value of life, independence, and the human spirit, they are some of the most entertaining reads ever written. So when the buzz for the newest series dies down, pick up one of these novels. You’ll be surprised how able they are to satisfy your reading cravings.
Courtney is a passionate blogger who loves sharing her views and thoughts with the world. You can read more from her on her blog, www.talkviral.com
By Selena Marimba
For aspiring writers, the type of writing that receives a significant amount of attention is creative writing. The most obvious reason is that creativity is an art, not a science, so people who are naturally creative stand a better chance at being successful creative writers than those who think mechanically. Be aware that there’s a format and approach to any writing, but the genius is not in the approach but in the idea created. Follow these easy tips to achieve your goal of being a fantastic creative writer.
It’s said that good writers are good readers. When creative writers are being exposed to another writer’s creativity and seeing how those stories translate, they’re able to learn techniques and develop skills. Expose yourself to a variety of ideas by reading all genres and all types of stories. This includes fiction, non-fiction, and even poetry. The goal here is to expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible so you can find something you may not have thought of previously.
Scribble and Jot
Write down (or record) your thoughts and ideas in a written or audio journal to go back and review later. When you get into this habit, you’ll find that there are things that don’t make sense when you first write them down but will fit together later when you are connecting the dots.
Become A Wordsmith
A wordsmith is simply someone who knows how to use words, either in speaking or writing, though generally the context is writing. For any writer, but especially for a creative writer, the goal is to use the right words in the right order, something that is a matter of both style and personal creativity. This is one dimension of writing that cannot be taught because it is intuitive. But keep in mind that there is a discipline to using your intuition since not all good ideas translate into successful writing.
Be Creatively Honest
Everyone has witnessed a bad TV episode, movie, or theatrical play. While it’s true that sometimes the acting may be terrible, the lines that they read originate from someone who wrote them. If you have a creative idea but it’s a bad one, be honest with yourself and simply reject it and move on. Over time you’ll learn the difference between good and bad creative ideas and then be able to work with the good ideas to produce writing you’ll enjoy.
Watch a show you love and think about the writing. Find what lines you enjoy the most and listen for striking stories you may have missed otherwise. Creative writing is one piece art and another formal structure. Structure can be taught, but creativity must be allowed to grow in order to see the results you wish. Both creativity and structure need to be developed through experience. It’s unlikely that your first story will be your greatest achievement, so be patient with yourself and let the creativity flow.
Selena Marimba is a journalist who writes about all aspect of education. Her recent work is on her plans to earn an MAT degree.
I’ve never been one to state how others should live or choose to enjoy their lives. I’ve never found anyone who does this to truly understand anything, to be perfectly honest. My thought on the subject, and on life for that matter, is relatively simple.
Step one: Seek out what you truly enjoy doing.
Step two: Do it.
Easy, right? Now I am going to complicate things here a bit. Stay with me.
I enjoy watching TV. When I’m in a lazy mood (which is more often than I’d like to admit) I don’t believe there is anything better than sitting on my couch or lying in bed watching bad TV. I can’t fault anyone for enjoying this, either. It is easy entertainment at its most discounted price. What is missing, however, is the sense of satisfaction. After sitting and watching TV for six hours, I receive no personal satisfaction because I put in absolutely no work and received the bare minimum amount of pleasure. This is where I’ll segue to fishing, I think.
This may make sense. Again, stay with me.
Some nights, I’ll lie in bed and set my alarm for four-thirty in the morning, promising myself that I will wake up and attempt to start the old engine on the back of my boat to putter out a mile or so into the pre-dawn Atlantic and drop a few lines into the water. “It’s worth it,” I’ll tell myself. “Just wake up and make yourself do it. It’s that easy.”
But it’s not easy. It takes effort.
In my half-asleep state, I feel that fateful time on my iPhone alarm clock ticking nearer and nearer until it’s ringing loudly into my ears. I open my eyes and squint into the darkness and stillness of the morning. “I could just go back to sleep. I don’t have to get up. I don’t want to get up,” I tell myself. And sometimes, I don’t. But on some mornings, I work up enough strength to kick the covers off my feet and stand up out of bed. In a sleep-deprived haze, I walk across the wet grass in the moonless darkness and start my car.
When I get to the harbor, I still don’t see the moon or anyone on the street or even hear anyone on the radio. I get out of my car and re-stretch my legs. I take two, sometimes three trips to the dock and load all of my gear into the little leaky dingy and row feebly out to my 18-foot center console at the far edge of the harbor next to the white water lapping on the mossy breakwater boulders in the flood tide.
I start my engine once, putters, blows a plume of smoke, stalls out. I start it again; same thing but a bigger plume of smoke. On the third attempt, the engine shakes and rumbles and decides to stay running long enough for me to shift into gear. Finally, I’m off.
A few meandering gulls sleepwalk awkwardly out of the way of the fiberglass hull of my boat, parting the water, just barely showing the first glimpses of sunlight from the false dawn rising atop the dunes of the beach and the roofs of the beach houses.
As I near my supposed destination, I slow my little boat to a saunter just as the first glimpse of the sun shows its face. Then, I cut the engine; silence, but for a noisy tern circling, watching me, wondering what I’m doing. I prepare my rods and wait, either five minutes, an hour, three hours, all day…
For that moment, as I lean on the gunnels, rocking softly against the direction-less waves, hearing the water gurgle as it rises and falls through the scuppers, I’m happy that I woke up and dragged myself out of bed and trusted my old engine to get me to where I wanted to go. “I can’t believe I almost didn’t do this,” I think to myself. “I can’t believe I almost traded in this satisfaction of actually accomplishing something for a warm bed and a few cheap television shows.” The satisfaction of working hard to truly accomplish or understand something is more fulfilling than any creature comfort. I may even catch a fish.
When I find myself in the last few pages of a book, truly caring, understanding, feeling for characters that are completely fictionalized by some man or woman I don’t and will never know, I am granted this same, deep sense of satisfaction and self-awareness. I am grateful that I can feel this way, that if I invest enough work—be it physical or emotional—into what I’m doing, I can feel this way. For this reason, I am excited to become more involved in the Changing Lives through Literature program and blog. I feel that everyone should be able to experience this sense of satisfaction. I know that literature has the power to change and better even the most beat-down and hardened lives and I am ecstatic that I will be given the opportunity to witness and experience this first-hand.
I apologize for the lengthy preface to this introductory blog. So, let’s see. Let me start with some facts in no particular order.
My name is Billy Mitchell and I have never run a blog before.
I have a list of books I mean to read turning over in my mind that spans the number of books I have ever read and will probably ever read in my lifetime.
I enjoy beer and I enjoy a good book and a combination of the two could keep me satisfied forever.
My favorite author is very cliché, as is my favorite book, so I won’t get into that.
I read The Sun Also Rises in high school and thought to myself, “Wow what a happy book, I would love to be one of these characters.” I read it again a few years later and was shocked at how I could have been so naïve.
I was once assigned Tolstoy’s War and Peace to read for a class. I read and enjoyed the whole massive thing up until the last chapter where I stopped, and haven’t picked it up since. I’m not sure why I did that.
When I finish a book, I find myself dreaming about the characters more so than I do about real-life people. Sometimes I like to believe that the characters are real-life people, and convince myself so.
I still haven’t met Dean, or anyone who is mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.
I’m still beating on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly.
I tend to write like Hemingway when I’m drinking scotch, which is almost never, but I can wish, can’t I?
I’m not quite sure if this is the best of times or the worst of times, but I feel it’s somewhere in the middle and I can’t hate that prospect.
I’m no Ishmael and you can’t call me that.
I’m still not sure where my white whale is; I can’t remember the last time I saw him.
I hope to never go 84 days without a fish.
I enjoy fishing and the metaphorical symbolism that comes with it, and I feel it is the closest resemblance that anyone can experience to reading and understanding a truly great book.
Hemingway said “there is no friend as loyal as a good book.” I would tend to agree, unless you have a really great dog. But I hear Hemingway was a cat guy.
So, readers of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog, I’ll leave you with this. Reading is like fishing, or something like that. In my heart, I recognize the ability of a good piece of literature to change the way that a person thinks about and perceives the world around them. And I think this is important for everyone to realize. No, I know it’s important. So never stop waking up early and putting in the work. Never let the temptation of what is easy or accessible or cheap overcome your need for your own personal satisfaction. I guess what I am trying to say, is this: Never stop fishing.
Can’t decide what to read this summer? Don’t know how to get the whole family reading?
Not sure what to suggest for your Changing Lives Through Literature group—or other book group?
This fun Summer Reading Flowchart will guide you to the right book! We thank Sarah Fudin for sharing this fantastic Teach.com visual.
Brought to you by Teach.com
Read Sarah Fudin’s accompanying article—Keep Reading Fun—also published on this blog.
Sarah Fudin works at an education company where she manages the community relations for the George Washington University’s online MPH degree, an innovative program that allows students to take public health courses online.
Lessons: Stories that connect from Stories Connect
By Sally Flint
People’s lives have been changed not only by reading and discussing literature, but by writing creatively too. In Exeter, England, this has culminated in publishing a book of linked short stories and poems. This book is Lessons and it comes from Stories Connect—a community project, similar in format to Changing Lives Through Literature, that takes place outside prisons to help ex-offenders, substance misusers and other vulnerable people get over difficult times in their lives.
In 2011, after reading Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and Andrea Levy’s Small Island, discussions centred on the significance of characters in storytelling, how our lives interconnect, and how perceptions of one another can be very different according to our individual experiences. Rather than read more texts to illustrate this, both the participants and facilitators of Stories Connect began a collaborative writing experiment.
Each person invented a character—then got to know his imaginary person through answering a questionnaire which not only detailed a physical description and obvious things such as what the character did for a job, but also smaller things such as what the character kept under his bed. Once each character was firmly established in each writer’s mind the group discussed how the characters’ lives might overlap and be brought together. Part of the success of this collection is that each writer firmly took ownership of his own imaginary character and stepped into his character’s shoes.
However, to bring the characters together it was decided something more was needed—an event. Parties and weddings and all sorts of other occasions were brainstormed and somehow, out of talking about school reunions, the idea surfaced that the characters would all attend a memorial service for a recently retired headmaster, Keith Simon Lung.
Everyone discussed, debated and created—then each person wrote his character’s story in a way that linked to the headmaster and his memorial. The stories took months to shape, edit and bring together as an anthology. This process fostered an environment of trust and commitment. It motivated both participants and facilitators to further improve their communicative and observational skills. Everyone worked hard to make each story stand alone, while ensuring there are many intriguing links to be made across the whole collection and questioned by the reader.
Some of the contributors had never written a story or poem before while some had read and written lots. Perhaps what this book reveals best, and why the group wanted it published, is to show how the process of writing brought them together. The result, Lessons, proves that stretching imaginations and the practice of storytelling unites people at all levels, regardless of age, background, ethnicity or past histories. In the process of creating, the group encountered the unexpected and overcame challenges and, it has to be said, they all laughed lots!
“This is a consummate piece of group story-telling, a feat of cooperation and collaboration,” writes poet and broadcaster Matt Harvey in the book’s forward. He supports and works with Stories Connect.
Lessons is published by Dirt Pie Press, University of Exeter: www.riptidejournal.co.uk
For more information, e-mail either:
Dr. Sally Flint, facilitator and publisher: email@example.com
Louise Ross, Stories Connect co-ordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mary Bell
Reading is definitely an escape from stress. It provides readers with an alternative world and imagination beyond recognition. It also provides information and different insights regarding recent and past issues that affect people of different statures. A relationship between readers and writers provide an ongoing cycle of demand and supply yet some are not aware of their rights as a producer and consumer.
Being a reader also has rights. Whether big or small, a bookworm can always be harassed into reading materials that he or she might not really want to entertain or acknowledge. Below is the list of rights of an avid reader. Knowing this might not only help them choose what to read, but also help them why and how to read. These may be obvious guidelines, but it will still help those who are still not aware of their rights.
1. The right to not read.
Like any other consumers, readers can choose what to and what not to read. You are not obliged to view materials that may be offensive or does notpertain to your field of interest.
2. The right to skip pages.
A reader may skip the pages of any book, magazine, leaflet, or handbook he/she buys. This exemplifies that the reader may not be entertained or satisfied with the contents of the page or the reader might have already read the contents of the pages already.
3. The right to not finish.
Whether it’s due to boredom or lack of interest, a reader may choose not to finish a certain reading material. He/she can always replace or put a book in the shelf if it does not satisfy his/her interest anymore.
4. The right to reread.
Obviously, readers have the right to read a book over and over again. May it be for research or just pure entertainment, the bookworm has the right to read his/her books any number of times he/she wants.
5. The right to escapism
The reader has the right to turn the book into an escape from reality. Whatever topic it may be, he/she is privileged to venture into another world through the pages of a book.
6. The right to read anywhere.
Readers need not to worry about the place they read their favorite books, as long as they are not offending anyone.
7. The right to browse.
Readers have the right to browse through a book before purchasing it. This enables them to get a preview of what content the book holds and may help them in being interested about a certain topic.
8. The right to read out loud.
A person is entitled to read out loud unless an area or institution prohibits noise. Try reading out loud in your room, kitchen, bathroom or wherever you want. It helps to bring out the emotions of the material you are reading.
9. The right to write about what you read.
Book lovers are entitled to be writers too. They can write anything about the books they are reading as well as give reviews and insights on its content.
On a writer’s point of view, creating a masterpiece takes a lot of time and effort. They are usually criticized on how they write the storylines and what content they put into their hard bounded memoirs. If you are interested in becoming a writer, you should know your rights and should not be afraid to emphasize them while doing your work. Below are the rights of writers and journalists. May these lines be helpful to you and your work.
1. The right to be reflective. Every writer has the right to reflect on what he/she is experiencing at the time. Whether it is a happy or painful experience, writers have the right to stop and reflect on the issues they are interested in writing about.
2. The right to choose a personally important topic.
A writer is has every right to write about an issue that affects him or her mostly. Giving insights on a certain topic, writers may express their feelings and insights whether it is favorable or not to a certain issue.
3. The right to go “off topic.”
Writers may choose to explore other topics that may still be related to the issue they are writing about. This gives new ideas and insights to the readers as well as aspiring bloggers and writers.
4. The right to personalize the writing process.
Every writer has the right to be recognized for his/her writing style. Remember, no two writers have the same style in writing. If so, that would be plagiarism.
5. The right to write badly.
Being an imperfect being, writers are also allowed to commit mistakes. That’s why they have a draft of their works so that they can edit it before publishing.
6. The right to “see” others write.
A writer has the right to observe other writers. This is essential for their work and may help them finish a book or article that they are currently working on.
7. The right to be assessed well.
Writers have the right to choose their review panel in order to have a feeling of fairness.
8. The right to go beyond formula.
Writers have the right to go beyond the traditional style of writing in order to create interesting and unique topics and storylines that capture the eyes and hearts of readers.
9. The right to find your own voice.
Writers have the right to find their own unique writing style in order to catch reader’s attention. Nothing prohibits a writer from becoming unique and creating his/her own voice.
These are but just simple and obvious privileges of writers and readers. We should be aware of every right and make sure to apply them whenever we feel violated and offended.
Mary Bell is a law and business blogger. She is a freelance lawyer and a full time mother of two wonderful kids. You may likely find her writing about related subjects and/or writing for companies like BailBondsDirect.com that has been in the bail bond industry since 1999. She has recently blogged about Bail Bonds.
By Bettina Borders and Estella Rebeiro
One day several years ago, Katherine Knowles, the director of the Zeiterion, approached the Juvenile Court to offer the possibility for court-involved youth to attend Zeiterion performances. Ms. Knowles envisioned the Z as a valuable community resource and wanted to extend it’s reach to include everyone. In her mind, this also meant the kids most folks want to forget.
There are many words used to describe these kids, trouble makers, delinquents, “druggies,” problem kids, misguided, etc. Ms. Knowles thought that perhaps some of them could find something at the Z to facilitate “turning them around.” It sounded good to the court. Why not try it. By and large these were kids with little opportunity to attend the Z on their own resources. Thus through the vision of Ms. Knowles and the generosity of her board, an ostensibly unlikely partnership began. Under the supervision of probation, young people from our court, and often their families, began to attend the varied theatrical performances offered by the Z.
There were several permutations to this partnership, which is part of two alternative sentencing initiatives supervised by probation and the court. At one point Ms. Knowles identified an anonymous donor who wanted to have the kids attend the theater in style. A limousine appeared at the courthouse, picked the kids up and drove them around various scenic areas of the city before dropping them, and their parents, at the Z. Later they were picked up and returned to the courthouse.
At another time, the youth participating in an alternative sentencing program, Changing Lives Through Literature, read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and later attended the play, courtesy of the Z. There have been plays, musicals, storytelling, dance, theater and magic performances these youth have had the opportunity to see. But the question remains: What has it meant?
For most of these youth and their families, this is an extraordinary experience. First, they are having a wonderful experience together, one that most of us take for granted. The probation officers who accompany these youth have watched while the demeanor of these kids transforms as the evening unfolds. They are indistinguishable from the rest of the audience; polite, engaged, attentive, well behaved, well dressed, inquisitive, mesmerized by the magical extravaganzas they are watching. They are out of their “comfort zone” and yet “belong” in this new environment. It is wonderful to hear about as the probation officers report back to the court.
But the transformation does not end there. The youth are asked to write about their experiences or discuss them in groups. Each youth is excited, energized and articulate when dissecting the play or gushing over the virtuosity of dancers or musicians. Many “thank yous” by letter and by mouth are sent by the youths. Another lesson learned. These are experiences we want for all of the youth in our community and Ms. Knowles and the Board of the Z must be commended for making them accessible to those teens least likely to find their way to the beautiful Z.
Art, we know, can transform people, all people. Ms. Knowles and her board have set a high standard for accessibility to art. One that can be replicated in many other areas of our community, particularly for youth. Our youth have much to learn from its leaders and the places frequented by them. Our court certainly appreciates the efforts made by the Z to include these youth. As Ms. Knowles says at the beginning of a performance: “Let the magic begin.” Perhaps she is on to something.
Honorable Bettina Borders is first justice of Bristol County Juvenile Court in New Bedford. Estella Rebeiro is senior probation officer. This op-ed was originally posted in the South Coast Today.
By Jeffrey Roe
Most people intending to become librarians often have strong memories associated with their school libraries and the people who worked in them. Those memories are likely what draws some librarians back to primary school, where they work to foster and promote literacy, learning, and, simply, a love of books. Others opt to go into research, working in high profile special collections with fragile documents full of unique information or of particular significance to history.
Few library students probably envision working in a prison library as their ideal place of employment. Contrary to what you might think, working as a prison librarian isn’t a maligned path so much as an overlooked one; it’s simply not a job on most people’s radar. This is unfortunate, as working in a prison library offers librarians a unique environment, one that is proactive in promoting education, literacy, and civic engagement, among other ideals closely related to the mission of libraries everywhere.
Becoming a prison librarian isn’t particularly difficult. As with all professional libraries, prison librarians must have a degree in library science, generally at the master’s level (MLS). Experience working in a civilian library (such as a school or public library) is also generally required. Some experience working in corrections is also ideal, but not required; it’s simply a good idea to understand the constraints that prison puts upon both the incarcerated and those who serve them. You could accomplish this by volunteering at a prison.
It’s important to understand what a library is to someone who’s been incarcerated: It is a place where inmates escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life, where they learn to improve their literacy, write letters, watch instructional videos and so much more. Prison libraries don’t differ much from public libraries in terms of content, though some do have dedicated legal sections. Prison libraries even sometimes host book clubs! Library services can be integrated with other services for the incarcerated, like visitation.
Prison libraries, like public libraries, suffer at the whims of state finances, but differ from their public counterparts in other significant ways. Internet is often unavailable to inmates or librarians; when it is available to librarians, it is only during hours when inmates are not present. Prison librarians also act as corrections officers, taking on the responsibility of supervising both the inmates working in the library and those using its services. Generally, inmates tend to treat librarians with a degree of respect since the services the library provides offer prisoners a respite from prison life and a way to better themselves and their situation. Prisoners who engage in educational programs, such as library services, tend to stay out of prison upon release at higher rate than those without access to such programs. Just another reason to consider becoming a prison librarian.
Jeffrey Roe is the community manager for the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. USC Rossier Online provides current teachers and those working on becoming a teacher with the opportunity to earn a masters in education completely online. In his free time, Jeff enjoys attending concerts and developing his talents as a videomaker.
By Sandy Atwood
“The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” – Michael Brunner, Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential.
As a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Justice, Michael Brunner drew a very stark link between poor reading skills and criminal conviction. A recent (2010) study has shown that 85% of all persons who are remanded to juvenile courts are functionally illiterate. Among adults, 70% of all inmates cannot read above the 4th grade level, and 60% are functionally illiterate. It is, of course, only one symptom of a matrix of conditions which lead to crime, but it is at least an area in which concrete improvement can be made and, perhaps, through such improvement the matrix can be changed.
While literacy programs, particularly prison-based, are not panaceas, they can benefit criminal offenders. In order to motivate offenders to improve their literacy, however, there must be some clear benefit. The following four advantages for prison inmates can be presented as inducements for inmates to improve their reading skills and to begin to read on a regular basis. These incentives are arranged from the most personal – even selfish – to larger and more long-term benefits.
Doing Time Between the Covers
Incarceration is boring. Yes, there is always the potential for violence – sometimes punctuated with active onslaught – but, for the most part, it is a life of monotony. This is why, for generations, the slang term for being in prison has been “doing time.” Entertainment of any kind is valued, which is why sports, games, hobbies and television are appreciated to such a high degree. If an inmate can be convinced of the entertainment value of reading as a pleasurable (and non-violent) means of spending time, the incentive for striving for better reading skills to enable him or her to read for enjoyment is that much greater. It allows an inmate to indulge in one of the great positive values of reading: Escapist fiction.
All human beings – and perhaps especially criminal offenders – have a tendency to believe that their situations are unique. Obviously, by being in prison, an inmate shares a common experience with many others, but there is still an isolating feeling that they are experiencing something that has never, quite happened to anyone else. Literature, biographies and history texts are replete with examples of others who have not only shared any individual convict’s experience, but have risen above that situation. It can be called “inspirational” reading, in the sense that the reader can experience a way out of his current situation; by reading about how others have overcome adversity can motivate him to attempt to do the same.
Even beyond individual isolation, criminal offenders are often socially and geographically isolated. They often grown up in and lived in a narrowly bound area – a defined neighborhood – and have a limited number of friends and acquaintances. No medieval villager has ever lived so bounded a life as many modern criminal offenders, even outside prison. By improving their reading skills, and practicing them, an inmate has literally the entire length and breadth of human history – and beyond – and all the earth – and beyond – to explore. This is more than escapism, it is a revelation that there are other possibilities, other places and other futures than what they had ever considered before.
A Library Ladder
If, as is often the case, a criminal offender has not experienced much success in a formal classroom setting, literature can provide a self-guided, self-motivated and self-taught course of education. Auto didacts can often achieve amazing results in broadening their knowledge, language skills and motivation for a less painful life. This is particularly true if, once a reader realizes what a treasure lies at their fingertips, they have a mentor to guide them on some of the possible styles, authors and genres they might have otherwise missed.
There is an old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all the problems look like nails.” Literature can provide criminal offenders with an entire toolbox from which to choose solutions. No, literature is not a single remedy for all the troubles of the world, but it can add to the value to a troubled life.