Reading Behind Bars: A Memoir of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian

Jill Grunenwald. Skyhorse, $25.99 (360p) ISBN 978-1-5107-3706-8
In this delightful, earnest memoir, Grunenwald (Running with a Police Escort) examines her life as a prison librarian. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a master of library science degree in December 2008, Grunenwald landed a job with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections at a minimum-security men’s prison outside of Cleveland; the handcuffs slapped on her wrists as part of the self-defense training she received on her first day showed this was no normal library job. It took a while for her to become acclimated, and her patrons gave her a crash course in prison tattoos, gangs, and inmate peculiarities (some prisoners cut holes in their pockets, a patron named Washington embarrassingly explained, in order to masturbate). Grunenwald writes about some hilarious situations, such as frantically dispatching a bat from the library, as well as more somber moments, as when she movingly discusses an inmate’s suicide attempt in relation to her own depression. Grunenwald is an empathetic narrator who, with straightforward prose, easily draws readers in. Eventually, Grunenwald realizes that her incarcerated library patrons have a great deal of similarities to readers on the “outside”—they devour newspapers and magazines, and love James Patterson novels—and concludes that she herself has strengthened her self-confidence as she lands a librarian job at a local college. Fans of Orange Is the New Black will appreciate this alternate view of life behind bars, and those looking for life changes will find lots of inspiring motivation. (July)
Reviewed on : 04/26/2019
Release date: 07/02/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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