“Literacy Unlocked”

For the past year, I have been involved in the Carnegie Library’s Literacy Unlocked program. Literacy Unlocked is a partnership between the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). Each month, librarians bring book clubs, financial education, resume building, parenting classes and more to the inmates at the ACJ.

On the third Saturday of each month, the ACJ has contact visits for a privileged group of inmates. Before going down to visit with their incarcerated family member, visitors can spend time in the Family Activity Center (FAC), a carpeted area with toys, games, craft tables and books.   Myself and one or two other librarians will set up an area in the FAC with crafts, books and building materials to entertain the kids while they wait for their visit.

In addition to visiting with children in the FAC, librarians also provide storytimes inside the jail. During contact visits, children are able to interact face-to-face with their incarcerated parent in a room with board games, toys and tables. At the end of these visits, the inmates are then searched individually by guards before being escorted back to their unit. This can often be a scary and sad experience for young visitors, so we engage the kids with songs, stories and rhymes during the transition.

Being a part of a program like Literacy Unlocked has been one of the most professionally and personally rewarding experiences I have had the opportunity to participate in. If you or anyone you know has a parent or close relative in prison, here are some books you can find at your local Carnegie Library location.

2014 Coretta Scott King Award Winner for illustrations.

-by Maddie, CLP-Squirrel Hill

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