Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jail librarian helps inmates grow

Wednesday, May 2, 2007
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FARMINGTON - Swapping the pleasant outside air of a sunny May morning, Sue Fahn goes to work in the locked confines of the Franklin County Detention Center.

Fahn, of New Sharon, is the jail librarian. Her purpose is allowing inmates to choose books, read newspapers or magazines. She helps inmates as they work on high school or college classes and even teaches some to read.

Fahn, who works through Franklin County Adult Basic Education, has been serving as jail librarian since last May. Prior to becoming librarian, she was working in Family Literacy at Adult Basic Education, but when the program was cut, she replaced Connie Johnson who enlisted in the Army and was sent to Iraq.

"I feel it's a perfect opportunity, with a captive audience, to help them make changes in their lives. Hook them into something that will have a positive influence," she said.

There are a variety of things that happen while she's there. It's not just a strict classroom setting. Contracted by the detention center, she works nine hours a week Monday through Thursday mornings. A couple days a week, she said, are informal with no real goals. Inmates can come in to read papers, choose books or work on the computers. There is no Internet available but they can write letters or work with some software programs geared toward helping them grow.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are education days that involve goal setting and helping them target what they want to work on. The library offers a variety of books including topics such as physics, religion, novels and some law, she said.

Through the Adult Basic Education program, inmates may also work on obtaining their GED, college courses and classes through the Franklin County Community College. She also encourages inmates to receive more help through adult education after they are released, she said.

Fahn brings in other instructors to work on special programs. A book club type program, New Book, New Read, targets new and lower readers. Facilitator Elizabeth Cook brings the inmates together to discuss a specific topic tied to the book.

Christy Le, a social worker from Orono has come to work with the inmates on job options, and a new program, Free Inside, is in the works, she said. The program offers yoga, meditation and stretching classes.

She has also reinstated the inmates' newsletter, now called D-Block. It prints poetry, drawings and even gripes submitted by the inmates.

"We're required by law to provide every inmate a chance to get their GED and to have a library," said Carl Stinchfield of the detention center.

Money comes through an Inmate Benefit Fund, he said, that contains commissions on commissary items purchased by the inmates and a percentage from the inmate phone system.

The computers were also purchased through the inmates.

Fahn may be too new to see success stories, but Stinchfield remembers. A few years ago, he said, when a man came in, he was only able to sign his name. He couldn't read or write. Through the education process offered, at the end of his sentence he was reading novels and writing letters home to his kids.

Studies show, Fahn said, that there's a reduced percentage of returning inmates when they pursue an educational process. Stinchfield remembered one inmate who was with them annually, but after completing his GED he was out of the facility for seven years. Unfortunately, the man just came back, he said, but Stinchfield still considers it a success attributed to the education process in the facility as the inmate probably wouldn't have completed it on the outside.

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