By Ken Lutes
Until you open a book or have one read to you, you will never know its magic or power,” says Cecilia LaFrance, Jefferson County Public Library’s public services coordinator for its Library 2 You department.
Library 2 You is “mobile services for taking the library to people,” said LaFrance. Library 2 You specifically targets people with barriers to library access, whether of distance, geography, physical disabilities or incarceration.
“For group residences, we can use a bookmobile. Our bookmobile travels to 30 sites two times a month.”
One of those sites is the Intervention Community Corrections Services men’s facility, a low-security community corrections agency at 1651 Kendall St., that provides a variety of rehabilitation services to the criminal justice system.
JCPL’s association with the ICCS men’s facility began four years ago. A conversation between a dedicated Edgewater library staff member and one of the ICCS residents brought to light “that there was a facility of 200 men who have nothing to do,” according to LaFrance.
“So, we arranged to start a twice monthly bookmobile service [to that facility].” A year later, JCPL began serving the ICCS female facility as well, which is farther west in Lakewood.
While some ICCS residents are permitted to leave the facility grounds, like the man who visited the Edgewater library, others’ privileges may be more restricted and limited to whatever activities are available at the facility itself.
“For ICCS residents, I think the primary need that we’re meeting is use of time while [the men] are still at the facility,” said LaFrance. “Many of these men are serving out the rest of their sentence, which can be a few days to many months.”
Although ICCS does have a small library, “they definitely don’t have the collection or the ordering capacity that we do.”
The bookmobile primarily checks out DVDs to ICCS residents, LaFrance said, but that the service also introduces residents to other possibilities and ideas.
“We might say, ‘Hey, did you ever finish this series of comic books? Are you curious about what it takes to get a CDL license?’”
Suggesting materials can sometimes spark connections with residents.
“When that happens, they realize they can learn something from the books the library is bringing to them.”
The goal is to nurture the relationship between the resident and the bookmobile; and after that to get them in the library where they can start using services there: online databases, community resources, books and videos.
“We can be a positive contributor in their rehabilitation. What amazes me is how many people have not been introduced to a library. At ICCS, we are often making a person’s first-ever library card.”
Lighthouse Writers Workshop Brings Writing Program to ICCS
The Lighthouse Writers Workshop program, Writing to Be Free, began in 2017 at the ICCS women’s facility, where women learn to become better writers of their poetry, fiction, letters and also share their work aloud in a class of about 15 to 17.
Dan Manzanares, outreach program coordinator at Lighthouse, said that LaFrance helped the writing program to become alternately “braided” with Library 2 You’s bookmobile service: the first week of the month, a Lighthouse instructor teaches a writing class; the second week, Library 2 You’s bookmobile arrives, and so on.
Manzanares said the impact the program has had on residents’ lives is extremely positive.
“During a workshop, the women have a voice on the page and a voice in the room. They are seen, heard, and given space to be creative writers. Some tell their stories, and as a result gain new power over them – the trauma in their lives, we’ve seen, lessens a little.”
Modeled after that successful venture, Lighthouse will begin offering the Writing to Be Free program at the men’s facility in January.
“We’ve seen some amazing thoughts and structure come out from a simple writing exercise,” said LaFrance, who believes the program has encouraged some of the participants to use writing as an outlet.
“It may also break down lack-of-confidence barriers, or skepticism or anxiety about writing because of the fear their writing wouldn’t be good.”
One of the ICCS students, “Beatrice” [not her real name], had never publicly shared her writing but shared some of her work with the group and received wonderful feedback, LaFrance said.
“She submitted them to us for consideration of publication on WriteDenver.org,” a community outreach program of Lighthouse Writers.
Beatrice then had two of her writings selected to be performed by actors during a Stories on Stage presentation; she also received a monetary award.
It’s hard to know the extent of continuing influence the writing program may have upon residents after their release from ICCS.
“I wish I could say it has changed their lives,” LaFrance said. “At a minimum, I can say that it impacted them on the class day. I know that some of the women walked in and one of the first questions the instructor asked was ‘Tell me what you like to write.’ By the end of one class, they’ve written something, and it happens to be powerful and maybe shocking to them that they would put it down in a 10-minute writing exercise.”
The benefit of braiding reading opportunities with writing experiences can’t be overstated.
“You can't separate reading from writing,” said Manzanares. “It's like breathing. Inhalation and exhalation equal breathing. If you only do one, you can’t breathe.”
Visit JCPL’s new Edgewater library at 1800 Harlan St., or jeffcolibrary.org.
Contact Ken Lutes at email@example.com.