EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Utah State Correctional Facility library gives inmates a slice of life

May 31, 2024, 1:00 PM

A public library within a Utah prison gives inmates a slice of life on the outside.(Michael Camit)...

A public library within a Utah prison gives inmates a slice of life on the outside.(Michael Camit)

(Michael Camit)

SALT LAKE CITY — Prisoners at the Utah State Correctional Facility often struggle with life ‘on the inside.’ It becomes too easy to focus on the walls or razor-wire fences of the prison, but that atmosphere is broken by a key service.

A public library within the prison gives inmates a slice of life on the outside.

Escapism

“It creates a pro-social activity,” said Christie Jensen. She’s the library director with the Utah Department of Corrections.

“It gives them somewhere else and something else to do, without it being an official prison program.”

Jensen explained that the library program isn’t limited. Instead, any inmate can check out a book. It’s an accessible feature that offers a bit of escapism for the inmates.

“Books give them an opportunity to escape… into something fantasy, an adventure, something different,” Jensen continues, “It can also teach empathy, compassion, or skills… It’s a resource they can access for free.”

Self-help resources

The library also helps in rehab. Jensen said inmates often check out books for education or self-help.

Jensen shareed one story of an inmate who was struggling to get through the addiction recovery program.

“She felt like AA was not working for her,” so Jensen said the inmate began checking out self-help books, “at some point, I shared with her “A Course in Miracles.

This inmate fell in love with the book. In fact, she’d check it out so often that at one point Jensen had her leave the book so they could renew her renewals of the book. Eventually, she was released.

“A few years later… we had a symposium where a few former offenders came.”

Jensen said this inmate was there, “She came up to me afterward… and talked about how that book and its principles really helped her get sobriety.”

The same inmate began creating her own program for inmates too.

Future donations

Self-help and fiction are the most popular genres among inmates; however, finding new books is tricky.

Jensen explained that the prison library sources its books from two local bookstores.

“We’re thinking of starting a partnership… where we have a list of books we want. If people want to purchase and donate them, then the bookstore can hold those for us for the next donation.”

Jensen said she’s considering putting a wish list together, but she hopes donations can be more than a mixed bag.

“We need people to go through those books, and make sure they’re actually something we want.”

It takes a lot of staff time to go through donations. Quality-checking books speeds up donations.

Once the books are in, Jensen said inmates take their reading habits to the outside once they’re released.

She hopes more staff will join the library to keep that habit going.

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Utah State Correctional Facility library gives inmates a slice of life