Kids need books, not jail.
That is the message author Marybeth Zeman is hoping to get across in her new nonfiction book “Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian.”
“I am trying to touch other people and inform them,” said Zeman, who lives in Fort Greene and works as a transitional counselor for incarcerated youngsters at the Nassau County Jail on Long Island. “People need to know about the system that these kids are caught up in.”
Zeman is technically a counselor, but she has a degree in library science and has become the jail’s de facto book minder. When she started working in the kiddie clink four years ago, the jail had very few books, so she filled a rolling cart with titles and started bringing it around to the pubescent inmates.
“It allowed me to make a new kind of connection between the students and myself,” she said. “They suddenly started coming to me and telling me all kinds of stories.”
After work, Zeman began writing down all the anecdotes she heard. Her husband, a former journalist, encouraged her to save all the material and compile it into a book.
“The majority of these stories are about teenage boys who made bad choices and they are thrown into a system that is not teaching them how to be better people,” she said.
The book includes 52 tales, including one about a teen who was trying to get out of lock-up for an afternoon to attend his brother’s funeral, another who sought to stay in jail long enough to take his high-school-equivalency test, and a third who was behind bars while his family’s home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
She dedicated the tome to “all the boys who found their escape in books.”
Zeman will read from her book at the Brooklyn Heights branch library on May 13.
Marybeth Zeman reading from “Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian” at the Brooklyn Heights branch library [280 Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 623–7100. www.bklynpubliclibrary.org/locations/brooklyn-heights] Tuesday, May 13 at 6:15 pm. Free.