I recently received a copy of TALES OF A JAILHOUSE LIBRARIAN from my friends at Meryl Zegarek Publicists (just a note: anything I’ve ever gotten from MZPR I’ve loved!). This is a mini-memoir of one woman’s experience working as a library cart librarian and transition counselor in the juvenile section of a large prison in New York. For Marybeth Zeman, her relationship with the boys in this facility is centered around her library cart and the books and stories she brings to them each week. Reading, for these boys, is a sanctioned escape, a chance for the future, a little bit of freedom in their everyday life.
Told in short vignettes, Marybeth has captured numerous tales of different boys: how they came to be in prison, what their daily life is like, how bright or bleak their futures are. Their stories are touching, painful, and honest, and one is left with the knowledge that these boys are just a small percentage of the thousands of young men incarcerated in our country each year. Marybeth’s story highlights the workings of the justice system and shows where improvements could occur, especially in helping the boys to have the skills they need in order to not become repeat offenders. Most poignant of all, though, are the voices of the boys that stay with you long after reading this book.
I was so touched by this book that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Marybeth Zeman while I was in NY at BEA. We connected through her publicist and spent about 90 minutes together just chatting and talking about her work, the juvenile justice system, her experiences, etc. There was no formal interview, or a “how did you come to write this book” type of Q&A. Instead we were just two educators and readers, come together to discuss our concerns and feelings about these boys and our hopes for the future.
Marybeth’s story is one that deserves to be told. Readable, touching, and unforgettable, her TALES OF A JAILHOUSE LIBRARIAN reveals an intimate portrait of what life is like for many of our nation’s young citizens. And Marybeth is a spunky narrator, both in the book and in real life! I can’t believe I’ve heard the last from this woman — she is going places and, as her subtitle suggests, she is “challenging the juvenile justice system one book at a time”.
Here is a picture of Marybeth from our time together: