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Sacramento State Prison C Facility Book Club

Featured Book Club Interview

Sacramento State Prison C Facility Book Club

The C Facility Book Club at Sacramento State Prison, led by Adrienna Turner, provides a space for prisoners to share ideas and have in-depth conversations. Elisabeth Cook interviews Adrienna:

Adrienna Turner Hi, Adrienna! So, you run the C Facility Book Club at Sacramento State Prison. How did the club get started?

As a librarian there, I decided to start a book club after participating in a library webinar that encouraged us to start groups such as writing groups, book clubs, reading groups. In 2017, I wrote a proposal and was approved to start a book club in C Library.

Did you have any personal experience with book clubs that went into that decision?

I’m involved in book clubs outside of work via Goodreads and other online groups that encourage reading out of one’s comfort zone. I wanted to see the prisoners engage in a book club to improve their literacy, writing, verbal and public speaking skills, to be equipped when they re-enter society. I thought this would be a great opportunity for them to learn from their peers in a positive environment.

What role do you play in the club?

I play various roles for the book club such as leader, facilitator, visionary, organizer, PR and spokesperson.

That's a lot! Is anyone else involved in the club, besides the members?

Janice Bradford is a library technical assistant who participates in our book club groups. She engages in our reading discussions, and assists with bringing guest speakers to the library.

Overall, what do you think the benefits are?

I strongly feel the benefits of a book club for prisoners are effective communication skills, exposure to different genres of literature, public speaking, critical thinking, analytical skills, developing an academic identity while behind prison walls and building self-esteem.

C Facility Club Members Have participants shared their own thoughts on how they’ve benefited?

Participants have stated that the book club has broken barriers beyond the prison walls, and is a safe haven to express their ideas where they can share their opinions openly among their peers. It breaks up the normalcy and routine, and they can share open dialogue and have in-depth conversations with people from different backgrounds, different ethnic and social groups. They also have to be receptive to others’ opinions and standpoints on the material read.

How does a typical meeting go?

We assemble as a group, introduce ourselves and orientate any new members. We give updates pertaining to information we have discussed in past sessions and discuss any plans or future developments. From there, we have our weekly discussions on the assigned readings and ask prompt questions to the group in an effort to get everyone involved.

Are there any patterns to how discussions usually unfold?

We discuss the reading material in several different contexts. We discuss how the characters in the book develop, plot lines and subplots, how the genre of the book influences our analytic perspective of reading material, how the material relates to current events and historical events, and how the material relates to use in a broader cultural context.

So it sounds like a lot of thought goes into how a work is discussed...

This makes the material more memorable and increases the participants’ public speaking, analytical and critical thinking skills in addition to raising societal, literary and cultural awareness.

Have any books the club has read gone over especially well?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The prisoners found this book very relatable, personal and quite informative. Many of them saw Attorney Bryan Stevenson as their justice hero.

Any other favorites?

Momma I Should Have Listened by Tosha Mills. They were glad to hear it was from the perspective of a mother whose son is serving a life sentence. They were able to feel and see how families have suffered while they are locked up. They recommended that these books need to not only be available in prison libraries, but also for juveniles not to end up in prison and serving long-term sentences like them.

How do people in the club feel about looking critically at the justice system—like with Stevenson's book? Can acknowledging the unfairness of the system be a helpful part of rehabilitation, or of dealing with prison time?

Most of the participants say they are inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s work and that his story of service to humanity makes them eager to get out and back into society. They say that Just Mercy further illuminates the disparities and injustices that are inherent in the American criminal justice system, and Mr. Stevenson’s book inspires them to channel their frustration into positive energy and strategies to help the community. It does not make dealing with prison easier.

How is the club funded? Do you rely on donations?

In the beginning, we had previous book sets available. However, I put posts on social media like Facebook asking for authors to donate copies of their books. Some authors have responded and donated a few copies for the club.

That’s great that you’ve been able to reach authors that way.

I’ve also paid for some copies to donate for the cause. I submit book selection requests and hopefully the state budget will allow us to purchase 8 to 10 books to add to our book sets for the other book groups to use for their sessions. Now, we need at least 20 copies since the group has grown to 24 members from 6.

I can see how it would be challenging to keep up with the need for books. Does anyone help you with this?

In 2019, I met with Dr. Nicole Fox, a criminal justice professor at California State University in Sacramento, who graciously donated more than 20 books and provides study questions to the book club group when she comes to speak. These questions, as well as the book selections, are from a criminal justice perspective, and so it’s quite a learning experience for prisoners to gain insight not only about their time spent in prison but to understand it from a restorative justice viewpoint.

C Facility Club with Dr. Nicole Fox Dr. Fox is also involved in your Partners in Letter Writing series, right? Can you tell me about that?

Sure, I’d love to tell you more about Partners in Letter Writing. Sacramento Prison C Facility Book Club has teamed up with Professor Fox to start a pilot program that allows criminal justice students and prisoners to both read the same material, both article and book length, and then send letters to one another based on a shared prompt provided to them.

What do the prompts look like?

The prompt includes questions to ponder about the reading, ranging from the writing style, to the authors’ methods and arguments, to the situations of the central characters. We also provide strategies on how to write effective letters and tips on how to respond to a formal letter.

How is the program organized?

Throughout the semester, Dr. Fox submits prompts to both groups with deadlines, and the book club meets weekly to discuss the material and prepare for the questions.

Do members answer the questions individually, then?

They respond to the prompt questions during their leisure time and turn them in by or before the deadline to be reviewed. After each book club member's paperwork is reviewed, it is scanned and emailed to Professor Fox for review and to be exchanged with a CSUS student's letter.

Does the actual exchange take place through email?

Dr. Fox and I meet in person to exchange the letters and discuss the quality, any challenges and how to make letter number two successful. Once the exchange has happened, it is handed to the members or students for review and discussion. This prompted letter exchange requires two to three exchanges or letters to be written to receive full credit for the prisoners and for an academic grade for the CSUS students.

And how has all of this gone so far?

Overall, it has been an exciting and encouraging exchange among both groups, with both responding that it changed their perspective, made them feel important and validated, and encouraged them to engage deeply with the material. We look forward to continuing this exciting and important program in the coming semesters.

C Facility Club with Reverend Eddie Wiggins Besides Dr. Fox, can you tell me about any of the guest speakers you’ve had?

Noreen McClendon, author of Hurt People Highway, spoke to the book club participants on topics from her book such as relationships after returning to society, employment opportunities, re-entry housing and realistic expectations. Reverend Eddie Wiggins discussed both his memoir Boy with Stripes and short novel Terror Stalks an Angel, also gave his personal testimony of his past in reference to his memoir, and touched on future projects and opportunities for re-entry. And several other guest speakers over the past two years, including Tosha Mills, Erika R. Land, who wrote Georgia’s Dam, and Chandra Brooks, who wrote Black, Brown & Political.

Would you have any advice for someone who’s starting or already running a prison book club?

Be patient and manage your time wisely. Try to make the readings interactive and relatable, involve all book club participants and work to form a supportive, inclusive and cohesive atmosphere.

Any recommendations for how people can support reading programs, libraries or book clubs for prisoners?

People can support reading programs or book clubs for prisoners by donating numerous copies of the same book, inviting guest speakers, and continuing to raise awareness and gather support like you all at BookBrowse are doing by sharing this interview with others.

So even just building awareness of prison book clubs is helpful.

I’ve even done a podcast live, been a California Library Association speaker in Santa Clara to bring awareness to other prison librarians to possibly start one at their institutions, and sent emails to all the state librarians to inform of potential guest speakers we’ve had at our institution.

C Facility Club with Noreen McClendon If people want to donate books to your club or put you in touch with a potential guest speaker, how can they go about that?

The easiest way to donate books is to contact me or any of the librarians at CSP-Sacramento via email or mail, and complete a gift or donation form. We can gladly email one to you. If a guest speaker is interested, please be aware that you are responsible for any travel arrangements and expenses. You are welcome to contact me directly to get further information on things needed to gain security clearance and seal a date.

Great, I hope that having this interview out there is helpful to the club! Thank you for talking to me, Adrienna.

Email for contacting CSP-Sacramento directly:

Adrienna.Turner at cdcr.ca.gov (C-Facility Librarian)
Andrea.Hubbard at cdcr.ca.gov (Senior Librarian/B-Facility Librarian)
Tanya.Lindquist at cdcr.ca.gov (A-Facility Librarian)

Mail:

CDCR
A/B/C Facility-Library
100 Prison Rd
Represa, CA 95661


Photos top to bottom:

1. Adrienna Turner
2. Members of the C Facility Book Club
3. Back: Club members. Front left to right: Dr. Nicole Fox, Adrienna Turner, Janice Bradford.
4. Left: Ms. Turner and club members. Center: Rev. Eddie Wiggins. Right: Club members.
5. Front and back: Club members. Center left to right: Ms. Turner, Noreen McClendon, Ms. Bradford.


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