New York Public Library book cart volunteers have gotten a look into Riker’s that we mere Law and Order fan club members can only imagine. Turns out, it looks a bit like everywhere else reading-wise, except with more rules and nothing in hardcover (rarely worth the markup anyway). Intern Jamie Niehof chronicles the experience of delivering books to the incarcerated on the New York Public Library’s blog. It’s pretty fascinating.
People in solitary confinement are allowed to request books off a list — they get three requests; the library folks try to find one — but if nothing’s available from their choices, the volunteers try to substitute something similar. Which, as you might guess, leads to all sorts of trouble. When attempting to substitute The Motorcycle Diaries for Che Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare, for example, Niehof reports:
The prisoner who requested Guerilla Warfare was less than happy with his substitution, and refused to take it. Perhaps Gael Garcia Bernal’s teen idol good looks were not the image of rugged rebel resistance he’d had in mind. After our insistence that it was the same person and a reminder that we wouldn’t be back for two weeks he decided to take the book, although I’m not entirely sure he’s going to read it.
After the requested books, one magazine apiece, and some free city newspapers are delivered to each of the solitary cells, the volunteers move on to the rest of the jail, where reading is a common pursuit. “There are tens of thousands of prisoners on Rikers Island and one single Correctional Services Librarian. That’s a pretty large patron base,” reports Niehof.
Prisoners are allowed one book and one magazine upon return of their previously borrowed materials. Everything is done by hand (no high-tech checkout scanners here) and Niehof describes it as “controlled chaos.”
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.
If he doesn’t someone should tell him; it might help settle the score with Stephen King, who says Patterson writes “dopey thrillers,” and once dubbed him a “terrible writer” in an interview. Not to mention reviewer Patrick Anderson, who has described Patterson as “the absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing,” and branded his second Alex Cross novel, Kiss the Girls, “sick, sexist, sadistic, and sub-literate.”
Well, anyway, the guys at Rikers have your back, James.
In terms of glossies,
National Geographic is the magazine of choice, and there is an entire box of them to choose from, some as from far back as the early ’80s.
Sarah Ball, another intern, reports that Rikers is in need of book donations, particularly of urban lit, popular fiction (Patterson, Grisham, Rice, Meyer, Rowling, etc.), sports and music biographies, conspiracy theory non-fiction, African-American history, small business and investment, GED study guides, and dictionaries.
If you’ve got that kind of thing hanging around the house and want to donate, email the Correctional Services Librarian, Nicholas Higgins. Paperback is vastly preferred.