In her work at a women's prison in Illinois, MS/LIS student Christinna Swearingen noticed that while a lot of the prisoners love books, many of them struggle to read. Her response to this problem was to create a Prison Book Club to engage readers at all levels of ability.
"I teach psychoeducational groups with women on a mental health unit, and these women are often left out of many activities," Swearingen said. "The book club was a way that I could give them something unique and fun. It is set up so there are opportunities for women to read on their own or come to 'readings,' during which I read from the book. We then combine the groups to have a discussion about the book."
According to Swearingen, the book club gives women something to look forward to, as many of them feel time passes so slowly while incarcerated. In addition to increasing literacy and the ability for the women to process what has been read, the club helps the prisoners connect with one another in a positive, respectful manner.
"I would love to someday have a projector to use with a downloaded book, so that those who struggle with literacy will be able to follow the words that I am reading and perhaps increase their reading skills," she said. "I plan on continuing to provide them with the book club for as long as I am employed at the prison, since steady engagement in an activity can be rather rare. I want to be able to give them this outlet for as long as they continue to be enthralled by it."
Swearingen, who holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from Illinois State University, describes herself as a "huge bookworm," whose house is overrun with bookshelves. Her love of reading, combined with a fascination for data and technology, led her to the MS/LIS program at Illinois. She isn't sure what she will do after earning her master's degree but hopes her interests continue to lead her in the right direction.
"I would love to be able to continue to create meaningful change in whatever position I pursue in the future," Swearingen said.