Beyond Four Walls

I wanted to follow up JT’s powerful post with something concrete to do.

A lot of you know that I taught for a time in the Los Angeles juvenile court system. But here’s something you probably don’t know.

In all the juvenile detention centers across the United States – the prisons for people under the age of 18 – there are only six staffed libraries. Six in the entire US. (And I can tell you – the books on those shelves are rarely what contemporary teenagers would choose to read).

Here are some statistics from a panel of five librarians who have worked in three of California’s juvenile detention centers, speaking at the annual California Library Association Conference in Long Beach, CA:

The State of California has more prisons than universities:

17 youth authority sites
33 adult prisons
29 state universities

At any time, in Los Angeles County alone, between 1,650 and 2,000 youth are serving time in the county’s three juvenile detention centers. Another 15,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are serving time in L.A. County jails.

Now project that across the country and you begin to get an inkling of the problem.

I know I don’t have to tell anyone here about the power of reading and books. Books aren’t just an escape – they can be a WAY OUT. Statistics have shown time and time again that literacy reduces recidivism.

So this holiday season please join me in supporting one of my favorite efforts:

The Beyond 4 Walls Book Drive for Incarcerated Youth

Buy books from the AMAZON.COM WISH LIST for kids at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Detention Facility in Sylmar, California

Nidorf houses 600+ children and teens ages 10-17 who are awaiting adjudication. Some cycle in and out in a matter of weeks, while others are detained for years. There is no access to a library. The Nidorf Collective, a group of librarians and masters students at UCLA’s Library Information Studies school, initiated a program of book giveaways and book-talking groups at the facility; this book drive is to supply the books the kids have requested and would like to read. Free voluntary reading has proven to have a salutary effect on school performance, personal attitudes and behavior; we hope you will support this important outreach program by donating books.

Click here for the Nidorf Wish List

or just search “Nidorf” on Amazon (Click “Gift and Wish Lists,” then “find someone’s wish list”, then search “Nidorf” or “Beyond 4 Walls”)

To donate new or gently used paperback books directly, please send to:

Beyond 4 Walls
c/o Lisa Lepore
3254 Kelton Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Sponsored by THE NIDORF COLLECTIVE – founded by students in the UCLA Masters, Library Information Studies Program, and including students, librarians, and interested others.

For more information, email Melissa Elliott,, or Monti Lawrence,

You can also donate books to a detention center near you. Call the front desk and tell them you have books to donate and ask where to bring or send them. You can use the wish list above to get an idea of the most coveted books. Also please note that it’s best to send paperback books. Some facilities do not allow hardcovers, which, yes, can be used as weapons.

Thanks for helping.

7 thoughts on “Beyond Four Walls

  1. Patricia Harrington

    Hi, Good column and worthwhile cause. I slipped over to Amazon and ordered 4 or 5 of the “wish list” books for the incarcerated youth. I admire the program to help them and it’s a sad business that so few of the youth detention centers have libraries!

    Had to laugh as somehow I clicked also on an ordre for “Happily Married Men . . . Or How To Be!” Obviously, I deleted that from the order.

    I’m a former school teacher, was involved with the first voluntary desegreation bussing in Tacoma, WA., (yes, we had our defacto segregated inner city) and my first class as a new teacher and mother of four was to 25 black, 5-year-olds. The school district had not integrated kindergarten, yet. I went into the classroom, ready to sit,spread my skirt demurely over my knees, smile brightly, and sing, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

    The kids sent me out singing the “Funky Chicken.” Wonderful kids, wonderful learning year for me. I wrote about it in Teacher Miracles, an anthology from Adams Media.

    Cheers and best of the holiday seasons to all.

    Pat Harrington, AuthorThe Bridget O’Hern Mystery Seriesand Aunt Amelia in Murder Visits Antigua, WIP

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Fantastic, Pat, thank you!

    Love your kindergarten story. My first week of teaching in lockup a bright and sympathetic kid helpfully explained to me that I didn’t have to worry – “gangbanging” wasn’t what I was probably thinking it was.

  3. patty smiley

    Alex, I worked in detention as a group supervisor and an admissions officer at the juvenile court in Seattle. The facility wasn’t meant for long-term stays, but some of the kids were held there for months for one reason or another. This is a great idea and a wonderful cause.


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