When Kirsten Wurmann lived in Edmonton, she worked with a woman who had been inside the Edmonton Institution for Women for some years.
While inside, the woman worked as the inmate librarian, and it was in that library where she found hope and a connection to the outside world.
"She had a huge impact on me and inspires me in my work," Wurmann said. "I have always believed that libraries and librarians have a role to play in contributing to social justice in our communities and to break down systemic barriers that can keep folks from accessing the information they need. And that includes our incarcerated community members."
While in Edmonton, Wurmann was chair and co-founder of the Greater Edmonton Library Association – Prison Project. She moved to Manitoba in 2011 and the following year founded and became volunteer chair of the Manitoba Library Association - Prison Libraries Committee (MLA-PLC).
The MLA-PLC recently released a chapbook collection of stories, poems and art from inmates at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Headingley. Create: Words and Art from WCC features prose, poetry, and drawings by 12 incarcerated Manitobans highlighting themes that remind us of our shared humanity — courage, grief, love, and resilience. The group hopes that this is the first of many volumes.
"The chapbook gives a voice to the residents of correctional facilities. It provides a safe space to create and to share their views, opinions and hopes. Expression through writing and creative arts is personal and very impactful for the reader. It’s a beautiful work of self-expression that I hope we are able to expand to other correctional centres," said Kathleen Williams, a librarian who has volunteered with PLC since it began in 2012, and co-founded the Women’s Correctional Centre’s Book Mates Book Club.
"The MLA-PLC is a committee of about 40 volunteers – made up of public and academic librarians, library technicians, library workers, library lovers, university professors, and library students. We believe in information access for all, and that includes our community members inside prisons," Wurmann added.
The committee offers books and library programming inside four Manitoba provincial correctional institutions including Winnipeg Remand Centre, Women’s Correctional Centre (WCC), Headingley Correctional Centre, and The Pas Correctional Centre.
Committee volunteers have been going into the WCC since 2014, offering a book exchange every second Saturday, and a monthly book club which recently expanded to two units. They hold author talks, writing circles, and bring in books of interest to the women.
The chapbook will soon be available online on the MLA-PLC website. Copies are available at Harvey Smith Library, St. John’s Library, and the Take Care clothing consignment store in Osborne Village, and have been added to the Winnipeg Public Library collection.
South Osborne community correspondent
Janine LeGal is a community correspondent for South Osborne.