Connie Davis helps inmates with reading, writing and rehabilitation
By Juliana Burns, Intern
Office of Public and Employee Communications
In the chill of the early morning, Library Technical Assistant Connie Davis walks through the gates of High Desert State Prison (HDSP) to enter the maximum-security facility, heading toward a library in the prison.
The prison has four libraries and she is responsible for half of them.
After heading to the Education building to get the day’s library list, she welcomes her first wave of eight inmates into the library. She quickly prepares for the additional two sessions scheduled before her day ends.
Davis has been working at HDSP for 18 years, eight of those in the library. Although her work is challenging, she said the library is a positive place.
No correctional officer is present in the library, but she said she feels safe. The prisoners who work in the library are there because they have a purpose.
Every night she creates a list of prisoners able to visit the library the following day based initially on individual deadlines they have to meet. Her schedule is strict in this high-security facility in order to ensure safety.
Three inmate clerks also stand at the ready to help Davis or the other inmates should they have questions about the resources available or how to use some of the tools available to them. Some of those tools include electronic legal libraries and legal form guidebooks.
The majority of the inmates who visit the library are in search of either legal research assistance or leisure reading. While she cannot provide inmates with legal advice, she is able to point the inmates toward resources, help college students with homework, or suggest authors an inmate might enjoy.
“(I like to) encourage them to be proactive and better themselves,” Davis said.
To do this, she has instituted many programs. She creates a quarterly project inmates can participate in which can be anything from a poetry contest, to creating a cookbook, to decorating bookmarks.
One of the thriving programs Davis has seen is a book report program suggested to her by an inmate.
“(The inmate) was reading every self-help book he could find,” she said.
The inmate suggested maybe they could be rewarded with positive notations in their central inmate files if they wrote book reports. Davis said this system motives the inmates to read and better their minds. She expects six written book reports for each notation she makes in the inmate’s file.
Davis is especially proud of the program because it “not only encourages them to read, but to write as well.”
When asked about her favorite part of the job, she said seeing people work hard.
“I laugh a lot. This environment is full of self-motivated people who are working hard to better their lives,” she said. “They can be very entertaining.”
She is also is quick to note she must maintain disciplinary rules. If an inmate requests to have library time, and then refuses, it takes up limited space in the library which could have been used by another inmate on the waiting list. In those cases, she issues a written chrono noting the refusal to comply.
Overall, she said, she and the other inmates work to make the library a positive place for learning.