Your Community: Connecting incarcerated citizens to the Library

For many years, Johnson County Library has provided outreach services for some teens and adults in the Johnson County corrections system. Now, those programs are expanding under the leadership of Incarcerated Services Librarian Melody Kinnamon. Kinnamon chairs a core team of staffers helping to connect incarcerated citizens to the Library, and she praises the entire group’s efforts. She’s especially grateful to long-term team members Kate McNair, Scott Stone and Debbie Frizzell for their commitment to this mission.

Kinnamon has held several positions since she came to Johnson County Library in 2002, including as a reference librarian and community branch manager. But the book “Just Mercy,” about justice and redemption, galvanized her. “I just kind of had a heart for the social justice issues that surround our criminal justice system,” she said, noting that Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 best seller “planted a seed” and sparked her passion to work with this population. Kinnamon co-chaired the incarcerated services team with McNair in 2018 and took the lead in 2019.

Last year brought more Library office hours and programs to the Adult Residential Center, where clients serve 6-month alternative sentences, doing work-release or getting substance abuse treatment. And for the first time, incarcerated individuals were able to attend Library events: specifically, the Writers Conference and Women & Money Day. Participants praised the opportunities.

In 2019, the attendance count for adult incarcerated services programming was over 1,000. “Melody is a visionary,” says Erin Moeder, volunteers and programs coordinator with Johnson County Corrections. “She’s had all these visions for really coming in and doing more for us, being on site more often.” Office hours went from once a month to once per week, with 30-50 clients helped each time with books, library cards and other services.

Kinnamon and Stone also hold a book club discussion twice per month. “They love her energy,” Moeder said. “Our clients love the Library. A lot of our clients are readers.” Kinnamon in turn loves book club. “I’ve had the most fantastic conversations in book group with some of our clients, and they can talk me under the table,” she said.

Recently, staffers took a Library event, a “Gather At The Table” discussion, to the residential center. Clients eagerly engaged in a civil, thought-provoking conversation about how to improve county mental health services. Kinnamon hopes to schedule future roundtable conversations. At the adolescent treatment center, the Library provides active programming, with writing workshops and training on such skills as 3D printing and sound board recording.

Clients come from all walks of life. “It’s not us and them,” Kinnamon said. “It’s just we.” She hopes eventually to take programs to the Johnson County Jail, but many logistical details must be resolved with the sheriff. The main goal is to keep breaking down walls between the Library and incarcerated residents. “Where whatever the public enjoys, they can take part in,” Kinnamon said. “They are Johnson county citizens and they are going to be back out in our community, and we need to be inclusive.”

To see other Johnson County Library Outreach Services, visit jocolibrary.org/using-the-library/outreach-services.

Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom