WILL capstone adds literature to the lives of female inmates

As classes wind down, the focus for most seniors lays on their future. This semester’s procrastinated papers and forgettable presentations are merely speed bumps on the fast track to graduation. But for a group of seniors, their final College semester may have more of a lasting impression.

For their capstone course, Women’s Leadership and Social Change, students and Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) members have devoted time to this year’s activist project, Libraries Educating All Prisoners (LEAP), to build a library for women prisoners in the nearby Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Education and Training Center in Trenton.

The center serves as a step in between state prisons and halfway houses for inmates. According to Davey Parziale, senior women and gender studies major, inmates are eligible for parole and usually only stay for up to 90 days.

“They receive counseling and training to enhance their own skills before they get out,” he said.

Though the majority of Bo Robinson’s residents are men, the center does have the capacity for up to 80 females who, up until last week, were severely lacking any reading material compared to their male counterparts.

Caryn Monta, senior sociology major explained that, “Even in the prison system, there’s inequality among the genders.”

The male residents in Bo Robinson had access to a library, but female residents were left with a book cart of around 20 books.

Last Friday, students from the class spent five hours hauling thousands of books to the center after spending most of the semester collecting mysteries, romance novels, fiction, poetry and anything in between. Although there is no official count, members estimate between 2,000 and 3,000 books were collected.

The overwhelming response to the book collection has the students completing the move-in this Friday and allowed the students to add on the men’s current library as well.

“There was a lot I didn’t know about the prison systems until we started reading about the state and federal systems,” Parziale said, addressing misconceptions about prisoners.

“Most people are serving a year or two. A large majority are in there for misdemeanors,” he added.

Overall, the course left its students with more than a stack of graded papers.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Parziale said. In addition to gaining better people and teamwork skills, “It was great to finally take what we’re learning in the classroom and apply it to reality.”