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Freedom of Thought


Reflections on the work of NYPL Correctional Services, promoting access to knowledge for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in our communities.

Booktalking "Behind the Gates of Gomorrah" by Stephen Seager

Napa State Hospital houses some of the most dangerous criminals in the nation... with no guards. Why? Hospitals do not have guards. Most of the patients have either been found "not guilty by reason of insanity" or "incompetent to stand trial."Read More ›

Booktalking "Justice While Black" by Robbin Shipp and Nick Chiles

A criminal defense attorney with a quarter-century experience gives advice to young men of color in order to avoid and minimize harm done if they get arrested. However, it is useful for all citizens to know about and exercise their rights.Read More ›


The prison is a structure. It has walls and it has smells and there are sounds you hear inside the prison. There are people who work and who live there. There are rules and there are gates and there are also friendships, and barbershops, and rabbis. I have been going to Rikers Island, which is a piece of land, on one end of a bridge, at the edge of the world.

There are fourteen thousand prisoners in ten jails. Most stay about 45 days, some much longer, and many will journey on upstate, to places I haven't seen but where I do know, at least, that there is time, 

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Word From the Big House (Excerpts from a Daily Rikers Journal)

This entry is formatted as a creative, non-fiction essay synthesized from notes taken during my first day volunteering at Rikers Island on January 22nd, 2013. None of the included events are fabricated; all the inmates and guards are currently working or serving time on Rikers Island, therefore no names have been included. The material is drawn from my own sensory experience, conversations with inmates, and outside research. The final product is my blow-by-blow recollection and reflection on a day of first impressions.

The island is mostly chain-link fences tinseled 

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The Beauty of Snail Mail

On my first day as an intern at the New York Public Library, Nick Higgins, the Associate Director for Community Outreach, handed me a stack of legal-sized white envelopes, a letter opener, and a Correctional Library Services, Mid-Manhattan Library stamp.

"You feel comfortable answering letters from prisoners?" Nick asked. I nodded, unsure of what I was getting myself into, but still attempting to look enthusiastic since it was my first day. "Great, it's simple. First, you look up the prisoner with their DIN, department ID number. Once you know they are 

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Tunes and Time: Excerpts & Poems from a Daily Rikers Journal

"The song remained; Kino knew them, but no new songs were added. That does not mean that there were no personal songs. In Kino's head there was a song now, clear and soft, and if he had been able to speak of it, he would have called it the Song of the Family." —The Pearl, John Steinbeck

I read this passage from The Pearl while waiting for the Count to be made and the inmates to be led in a thin trickle to our closet-sized library. Time to wait and contemplate 

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A Utopian/Dystopian Adventure: Creating a Book Discussion for Metropolitan Detention Center

While I've been actively working on the Veterans Oral History project, my behind-the-scenes project has been creating a book discussion syllabus for a book group at Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn. 

MDC was opened in the early 1990s and holds about 1,000 inmates who are awaiting trial or are serving brief sentences. This past August, Nick and Brian (another NYPL librarian) started a 15 week book group revolving around American literature after 9/11. Some of their reading included

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The New York Public Library on Rikers Island: Bringing Books, Newspapers & Magazines to Inmates

I was fascinated to learn that NYPL visits Rikers, as well as other correctional institutions in and around New York City. Read More ›

Criminal Justice Special Libraries and Museums

I have been intrigued by why and how people commit crimes since I was young. This interest led to me devouring true crime stories as a child and true crime TV shows as an adult. I also got a master's degree in forensic psychology, and I have interned in several jails. Below are some criminal justice libraries and museums that I found.

Special Libraries

from the Directory of Special Libraries and Information 

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A Glimpse of Life on the Inside: Reflections on Rikers Island Correctional Library Service

The typical reaction I received from many co-workers after telling them that I wanted to go to Rikers Island was, “...why? Isn’t that dangerous?” I considered that question. Would it be dangerous? Quite possibly... but after meeting with prison librarians Nick Higgins and Luis Torres, taking a trip with them out to Rikers Island was never far from my mind. Several times each week as part of the library’s Correctional Services Program, Nick and Luis alternate going out to Rikers 

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Prisoners' Rights and NYPL Correctional Services

Reference question: when did the largest prison strike in the history of the United States occur? 1890? The 1930s maybe? Wait, was it Attica in 1971?

The answer: December 2010.

That's right, the largest strike by incarcerated individuals in an American correctional facility occurred just late last year in Georgia, was brutally suppressed and silenced, and passed with barely a

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Daddy & Me

Last week Correctional Services completed a new program at Rikers Island called Daddy & Me. The program is designed to encourage early literacy efforts for incarcerated fathers. After two workshops on the importance of early literacy and storytelling skills, the dads involved began to record stories for their children. There were eight men in the program, most of them with more than one young child. We recorded them reading their children's favorite books and this morning 

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Corrections Librarian in the Spotlight - Tooting Our Own Horn

Growing up, my father was the production designer for a violent television show that took place in a prison. When Nick Higgins, Correctional Services Librarian at New York Public Library, invited me to do a day of library service at Rikers, I thought: I spent my childhood in a fake jail–it’ll be like second nature, right? But then, on the Q100 out to the island, Luis Torres, Information Assistant, told me that there was the possibility that an alarm could sound during our service. “If that happens,” he explained calmly, “we’ll stop and 

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Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

I recently read Doris Lessing's 1987 collection of essays, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. As an intern with the Correctional Services Program at NYPL, the book had layers of meaning for me. Lessing shares her wisdom, her unapologetic inquiries, and her unique experience through four essays on human behavior.

Her approach is rational and clear. She asks us to use our powerful tools of reflection to amend our 

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Controlled Chaos: A Day Working the Rikers Island Book Cart

Another day of volunteering at Rikers Island with the NYPL has come to a close. Thursday I went to one of the male detention houses along with my mentor and two other staff members from NYPL. We were there for "book cart service," which is a little different than what I remember from Shawshank Redemption.

We delivered books to both solitary confinement and two different "houses," which are the names of blocks within the building. The inmates in solitary confinement are 

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Books Behind Bars

Rikers Island Prison ComplexI spent the first week of March working with the Correctional Services Librarian at the New York Public Library. It was part of an internship through the University of Michigan's School of Information designed to be carried out during our alternative spring break week.

Some of my time was spent answering letters from inmates from Correctional Facilities at various locations 

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Correctional Services: Libraries on the Island

For twenty years, New York Public Library's Correctional Services program has provided books to the inmates of Rikers Island jail and provided reference services by mail to inmates throughout the state.

Located outside of Queens across from Laguardia airport, Rikers Island jail is vast complex of housing units and facilities that holds around 13,000 inmates at a time. Its scale can be seen on a map but the size of the operation can only be understood through a visit. As an intern 

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