Editor’s Note: As stipulated in the Franklin County Jail and Reformatory press release forms, some inmates are referred to by their first name only or by their first name and initial.
GREENFIELD – A $9,700 grant to the Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield will expand the literary programs it offers to those incarcerated at the Franklin County Jail and Reformatory in conjunction with the Griswold Memorial Library by Colrain.
Sarah Hertel-Fernandez, director of the Belding Memorial Library, and Chelsea Jordan-Makely, director of the Griswold Memorial Library, started a program with female prisoners about a year and a half ago, when the Colrain Library received a grant from $10,000 from the American Library Association. About a third of that money was spent on setting up the new program.
The two librarians attend morning meetings with the inmates and bring paperbacks to pass around, James Patterson being the most popular author.
“We want to support the intellectual freedom and lifelong learning of our incarcerated clients,” Hertel-Fernandez explained, “while fostering positive and lasting relationships with them.”
The grant will help expand book circulation, which is currently only offered in the women’s unit. Funding comes from the federal Library Services and Technology Act, with grants being approved by the state library board of commissioners earlier this month.
The grant will also allow libraries to introduce a program, modeled on those proven in other states, in which inmates can record videos of themselves reading picture books to share. with their loved ones. Their families will receive the recording as well as a copy of the book.
Jordan-Makely said she and Hertel-Fernandez wanted to introduce this program because incarceration “affects and punishes more than people in prison – it affects their loved ones.”
Librarians also helped inmates sign up for CW MARS (Central and Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing) library cards, which they can take with them upon release. These cards give them access to books from 155 different libraries in central and western Massachusetts.
“We want them to know once they’re released that public libraries are welcoming places,” Jordan-Makely said.
The two librarians already run a book club with incarcerated women at the prison.
“They mostly choose thrillers,” Hertel-Fernandez said of the book selection. Tea and cookies are handed out and the women enthusiastically discuss the plot of the chosen book of the month.
Librarians create a document with book covers and short descriptions of available books, then club members vote on which book to read.
“Non-fiction is not my style,” commented Julie Sheperd, a book club inmate. “I want to escape. I like science fiction and fantasy.
On Tuesday, the group discussed “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware.
“Thank you for bringing it,” Sheperd told Jordan-Makely and Hertel-Fernandez. “I really enjoyed that.”
Inmates shared how literature had helped them broaden their horizons.
“Having access to books is important to us,” commented Ashley B., a book club inmate.
“Before I came here, I was sober,” shared book club inmate Becky, “and reading new books opened up a whole new world for me.”
Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.