By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Stacks of handwritten thank-you notes for the New York Public Library’s mobile library and literacy program at Rikers Island underscore the value of the services Local 1930 member Louise Stamp provides to hundreds of incarcerated men awaiting trial.
In their letters, the men at Rikers express profound respect for Stamp, a Library Administrative Assistant in Correctional Services at the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers Island and a vice president of Local 1930.
“I would love to give thanks to a very blessed and brave woman for faithfully bringing books to men like me…locked up on Rikers Island 24/7. Ms. Stamp you are forever loved and appreciated,” one detainee wrote.
“Many take the time to complain, I thought it was necessary to give thanks to Ms. Stamp and the NYPL,” said another detainee, who even offered money to support the unique library service.
NYPL’s program reaches men and women in city, state and federal correctional facilities. Library employees like Stamp and volunteers bring the mobile circulating library to the houses, or jail cells. Their carts are piled with newspapers, comic books, word search books, and magazines. The library service is in five city jails.
Twice weekly Stamp takes two buses to reach Rikers Island, toting over 40 paperbacks donated from other branches. She holds book drives to collect page-turners from fellow bibliophiles. “My brother is my biggest supporter and donates lots of magazines,” said Stamp.
“We have men who are learning disabled and men who are college graduates, so I bring books and magazines to appeal to an array of interests, from astronomy to sci-fi to GED prep,” Stamp said. The selection of authors is diverse – writer James Patterson is a favorite and urban fiction is also popular. About 300 men use the library monthly. Rikersdoes not provide Internet access to inmates.
Stamp has built relationships with Corrections staff. She said, “They know me and what I do. I explain that when these men are reading they are not talking, arguing or fighting– and that’s a good day on Rikers.”
“The program gave me a second chance,” wrote another man. “Seeing individuals who are dedicated to insure that a variety of books and magazines are readily available has given me a new perspective of New York Public Library. It also motivates me to encourage my own kids to take full advantage of the programs their local library offers.”
“We want to meet their needs, do our best and treat these gentlemen with dignity and respect. We do not judge their circumstances,” said Stamp. “We dignify them and recognize their humanity.”