Friday, October 22, 2010

Avi Steinberg

From a Q & A with Avi Steinberg about his memoir, Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian:

Your memoir Running the Books is the ultimate fish out of water story. How did you wind up in prison?

I ended up in prison the way most people end up there. By accident. It’s a classic tale, really. An Orthodox Jewish guy leaves the fold, goes to Harvard, gets bad grades, then becomes a freelance obituary writer, then gets punched in the face at an Orthodox wedding which makes him realize that he must get his life in order. That he needs healthcare. And so he sends out his resume to a prison in the hopes of achieving all that. Health care and order. As I said, a classic American tale. Now, why I went to work specifically in a prison and specifically in a prison library, that’s a slightly different story. In many ways it took, I think, working there for more than two years to discover what I was looking for to begin with. And I think that’s really the saga I describe in this book.

Aside from the obvious answer of clientele, how does a prison library differ from a general public library?

One major difference is that the people who visit a prison library also live together, in this estranged sort of way. They’re around each other nonstop, every day, all day. And the action that occurs in a prison library is always an extension of the drama that is happening upstairs in the cells, in the prison blocks, and to some extent from previous dramas on the street. Everybody’s implicated in everybody’s life. The library functions very differently in these dramas. Sometimes it’s a place for people to gain some privacy and to momentarily escape. But more often it’s a place for people to confront their issues head on. So in a funny way the prison library functions as...[read on]
See Avi Steinberg's list of what Lindsay Lohan should read in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue