Avi Steinberg's memoir of life as a prison librarian
In his oublished memoir, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian (Random House), Steinberg promoted for nearly two years books and creative writing to a multitude of prisoners ~ students, pimps, prostitutes, junkies, thugs, robbers, con men, and even killers. At the prison, inmates nicknamed him “Bookie.”
This book "is a rich meditation on this wild experience and the related nuanced questions about morality and humanity that he confronted armed with little more than his own sensitivities and book learning."
“A prison library is a fascinating place,” Steinberg says in retrospect. “People there have a dire need to connect—with other people, with estranged loved ones, with their past, with themselves.” At the same time, the library is the only place, apart from solitary confinement, where inmates can experience any quiet in a social setting; carpeting and books dull the roar and screams of prison life that reverberate against all that steel and concrete.
It was within this context of books—of writing, reading, and thinking—that Steinberg aspired to create “a space where you can make people open up instead of close down, to awaken people instead of numbing them,” he explains. “Everywhere else in prison is a place of shut down, lock down, literally.” The library allows people to relax, briefly, away from the power-mongering and threats of physical harm, and reminds them “that they are more than criminals, if they choose to be.”