As librarians, one of our most basic goals is to get people reading. Here in Fresno County we have statistics thrown at us daily reminding us of what a challenge this basic goal can be. High school graduation rates? Some of the lowest in the state. Poverty levels? Some of the lowest in the country. And yes, we have more than your average number of teens incarcerated.
One place where incarcerated young men are sent is the Elkhorn Correctional Facility Boot Camp. The cadets there must embrace a traditional military lifestyle, including physical training, discipline and drill; but it also acts as a school, featuring stress education, leadership building courses, positive decision making and self-accountability. We also have a library there.
So, here’s the chicken soup for the librarian’s soul part. The Elkhorn library applied and became a recipient for the ALA/YALSA’s Great Stories CLUB (Connecting Libraries, Underserved teens and Books). While the Elkhorn cadets have taken part in our summer reading programs and poetry contests, never before have we seen such response and camaraderie when it came to reading. The first book up for discussion was Tyrell by Coe Booth. That was by far the favorite, so much so that a second group was necessary. The books were passed from cadet to cadet with nary an adult in sight. Only 8 copies were given out but it’s estimated that about 60 teens read Tyrell as a result of the grant. 60 incarcerated young men, discussing a book about a young man who is trying to beat the odds. Chills!
With our state in budget crisis, the boot camp has been in danger of closing several times. Success stories like these keep it going. Though such stories are not entirely uncommon, it feels good to share them.